On the Promise and Pitfalls of Biomedical Explanations for Mental Disorders
In recent decades, explanatory frameworks that consider mental disorders to be biomedical diseases, rooted in genetics and neurobiology, have become ascendant. This biomedical revolution holds exceptional promise for bringing about improvements in our approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, but psychological theory and research suggest that widespread misconceptions about the workings of genes and the brain could affect how biomedical advances are received and interpreted. This talk will argue that as clinical psychologists, we must attempt to anticipate any potential pitfalls that are likely to accompany the increasing influence of biomedical explanations on clinical practice. In particular, the talk will focus on how biomedical explanations could affect prognostic beliefs (e.g., by leading people to assume that mental disorders are relatively immutable), diagnostic judgments (e.g., by affecting patients’ recall and self-report of symptoms) and treatment (e.g., by affecting clinicians’ selection of intervention methods and the kinds of relationships they are able to form with patients). As the talk will highlight, these findings can be used to guide the development of approaches for intervening to counter negative attitudes and beliefs associated with biomedical explanations, to maximize the likelihood that biomedical advances will ultimately benefit patients.