Bad Science and Good Mental Health: Guest Blogger Martin Seager, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Adult Psychotherapist summarises his paper.
In writing my paper “Bad Science and Good Mental Health”, based on two presentations that I did for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), I wanted to go beyond the usual limp critique of our inadequate “medical model” of mental health to show that the problem goes much deeper.
Our whole scientific framework in the West, since the time of the Enlightenment in the late 17th Century, is based upon the notion of a mechanistic universe where only the physical is deemed to exist. In this scheme, mind simply gets reduced to physical brain structures and processes. From the 18th century onwards we lost the more inclusive concept of “natural philosophy” and the mind became split off from science and consigned to the domain of the arts and religion. Psychology is therefore doomed from the start, being seen as a “soft” subject that cannot constitute proper science. It is assumed that “hard” data about mental health are only to be found in neuroscience.
My paper aims to show that it is bad philosophy and even worse science to come up with theories that disqualify the very mind that created them. This is like going up Wittgenstein’s famous ladder and then kicking it away. Mind is in truth the subjective and creative dimension on which all our scientific achievement depends. Without mind there could be no science, no imagination, no meaning and no interpretation of data. I argue that mind is best thought of as a dimension like time and space.
However, because of this “Neuromania” to use Raymond Tallis’ term or “mind-blindness” to extend Simon Baron-Cohen’s concept, mental health science and services remain in the Dark Ages. Instead of focussing on the obvious connections between the minds of people and on the meaning in their communications and relationships from cradle to grave, our science tries to look for “hard” “mental illnesses” that are somehow meant to be the equivalent of physical disease. In this state of scientific blindness we disqualify everything subjective and inter-personal as “soft” in favour of what is believed to be an objective and “hard” physical “evidence-base”. Psychological therapies, based on talking and relating, are measured and valued only in terms of being the equivalent of chemical treatments.
This means that in the name of science we depersonalise the very things in life that are the most personal and sacred to us. Instead of providing mental health services that honour the subjective and the personal through relationship and empathic connections, we listen to people’s stories only to collect data to ascribe an objective” diagnosis. By doing this we may often unwittingly dishonour the person and repeat past emotional neglect and abuse. Nobody’s mental health can truly improve unless they can feel he presence of another mind engaging and connecting with their own over time in a meaningful relationship. There is after all only one way to truly measure a mind and that is with another mind.
The value of mind is there to be seen in our everyday lives, culture, art and spiritual lives. Traditional science then can only look stupid if it ignores all this data.
In my article I illustrate the folly of this mind-blind position with the following humorous poem:
The empirical love song of Alfred E Prefab
An affectional bond has been detected,
A skin response has been affected,
Neurotransmitters are activated,
And positive affect correlated.
The cortex has been stimulated,
And dopamine invigorated,
What else is there now to be stated?
‘Empirical love’ is validated!
If the traditional medicalised model of mental health and the human condition was correct, we wouldn’t even laugh at these words. Thankfully it isn’t and we can! Surely it is time to put the baby of mind back into the bathwater of science, especially the science of what we still call mental health? And yes, once we do this it even becomes possible to conceive of God within science as so many of our great physicists and scientists have already realised.