A new scholarly article explores the ongoing debate surrounding the classification of mental disorders as brain disorders and proposes the field of psychological humanities as a potential way forward.
The article, co-authored by Jussi Valtonen and Bradley Lewis, argues that the classification of mental disorders as brain disorders has led to a reductionist view of mental illness that overlooks the complex social and cultural factors that contribute to mental health. Their article also highlights the importance of the psychological humanities. This field combines the humanities and social sciences with medicine and public health to provide a more comprehensive understanding of mental health.
Valtonen and Lewis argue that psychological humanities can help bridge the gap between the reductionist view of mental illness as a brain disorder and the more holistic view that considers the social and cultural factors contributing to mental health. Valtonen (a novelist and neuropsychologist) and Lewis (a psychiatrist with a Ph.D. on Foucault) use the works of Russian author Anton Chekhov to illustrate their point.
Chekhov, who was a physician as well as a writer, explored the complex relationship between mental health and social factors in his stories and plays. The authors argue that Chekhov’s work provides a valuable perspective on mental health that is often overlooked in the brain disorders debate.
“Chekhov stands out, both through his art and his dual engagement with medicine and literature, as a pluralistic advocate of both science and literature. Chekhov, who worked in a time before the methodological conflict had hardened, used an approach to mental differences in his stories that values the sciences but also exemplifies the possibilities of the arts and humanities,” Valtonen and Lewis write.
“In this way, Chekhov can be a guide for mental health research and practice at a time when biological answers are turning out to be much more complicated than early proponents of neuroimaging had hoped. Finally, generalizing from Chekhov’s contribution, we develop an arts-and-humanities approach to mental health and mental difference through the articulation of interdisciplinary mental health humanities as a significant contributor to future mental health research, education, and practice.”
Valtonen and Lewis point out that the debate over whether mental disorders can be explained purely in neurobiological terms has been raging for over a century. While some researchers have advocated for natural science methods to measure cognitive and neuroscience variables, others have argued that this approach is limited in its reach. Moreover, recent research has shown that neurobiology-based interventions for mental disorders have largely failed, leading to a call for a broader perspective.
Beyond the Brain: Psychological Humanities Needed to Understand the Human Condition