Post Of The Week – Thursday 23rd January 2014

1) Treating Depression Via Video Games

Traditionally, the problem with people getting treatment for depression was seen to be that people would not go to their doctor to discuss their mental health. Increasingly, the stigma of mental health is diminishing and people are prepared to talk about their issue. The next battle is to get them to seek treatment. The government has put money into IAPT (Improving Access To Psychological Therapy) so that psychological therapy is made more available to people who have been to see their GP. The problem is getting them to access the therapy, particularly if they are young. One way of tackling this problem is to make therapy available online.

This article explores the possibility of using online games to treat depression. The SPARX initiative comes from New Zealand. We’ll look at it as part of our study of psychological therapies for depression.

2) A Couple Of Things About Autism

In a previous post, I posted a link to an article about intense world theory. The idea is that the symptoms of autism are not the consequence of a lack of awareness of the surrounding environment but rather the consequence of the brain being too sensitive and taking in too much information.

This article casts doubt on the theory. It suggests that the experimental base for intense world theory is slender and that it does not explain the wide range of symptoms of people with autism. It also suggests that therapies based on intense world theory might do more harm than good. This article reminds us that in thinking about abnormality, explanations are intimately bound up with classification and with treatment.

The broken mirror hypothesis suggests that autism is the consequence of failure within the mirror neuron system. One of the things mirror neurons are supposed to be able to do is to enable us to experience the emotions we see in other people. If the system is broken, we cannot experience the joy or the pain of other people. Empathy becomes impossible. There are a host of reasons for thinking that this hypothesis isn’t right, some of which are explored by Mo Costandi in this article here.

This article suggests that people with autism experience the same levels of brain activation when seeing someone in pain as people in the normal control group. The problem for people with autism is therefore not feeling someone else’s pain but understanding and interpreting it. This is good evidence for the distinction between cognitive and affective empathy which Simon Baron-Cohen explains in his TED talk here.

3) Childhood And Adolescence Again

I’ve been thinking more about the research the AS groups did on childhood. In particular, I continue to be impressed by the idea that emerged from some of the studies that as a society we get the care and nurturing of children in pre- and primary school about right but fail to offer the same level of care to adolescents at a time when they need it. Here is a  piece from The Guardian which explore what might be going wrong for adolescents.

This piece, under the Comment Is Free banner, is more political.

This should matter to us as people interested in Psychology because so much is being done now to understand the changes the adolescent brain goes through and what the implications of that might be for how people are cared for and nurtured. Here’s a piece from Sarah-Jayne Blakemore which focuses specifically on the implications for education.

We need at the same time to question the assumption that all is well with care for the under 5s. This article by Sue Cowley has some interesting echoes of the research we did in school. We tend to see the decision to use day care as principled and philosophical. For most people, it is a practical response to everyday pressures. It also questions the increasing pressure to prepare children for school, in some cases by actually going into it at 2 years of age.

4) Mark Griffiths On Video Game Addiction

This short summary deals with the controversy over addiction to online gaming. It questions whether it is valid to use “addiction” as a label for extended online gaming and looks at cultural differences in attitudes. It also looks at some controversies about therapy while promoting CBT as a helpful approach. An excellent introduction to the controversies surrounding addiction in general.

5) Some Critical Psychiatry

I’ve recently come across the work of Joanna Moncrieff. She continues to work as a psychiatrist while criticising some of the assumptions on which psychiatry is based. Here is an article looking at the process of diagnosis.

In this article, she distinguishes between a disease centred model and a drug centred model of how psychiatric drugs work.

In similar critical vein, here is a piece warning of an over-reliance on psychological model of abnormality.

The problem that people who deal with Psychology as a job like me have is that we started Psychology at a time when there was very little neuroscience around. I tend to be very impressed by anything that sounds biological and scientific because I often don’t quite understand it. It is important to retain a critical ear.

Finally in this section, here’s an article linking the development of DSM5 to a conflict of interest. For once, a drug company is not involved.

6) Religion And The Thickening Of The Brain Cortex

It has been thought for a while that meditation and other religious/ spiritual practice protects people against depression. This study claims to offer a reason. These practices thicken the cortex in the brain and therefore act against the thinning of the cortex which is a feature of depression. This research is published here

and also here in The Independent

There’s an obvious problem though. It is not clear whether meditation increases the thickness of the cortex or people with thicker cortices tend to be the ones who meditate. It’s interesting though because it links to the idea of mindfulness, an eastern idea which is increasingly applied in western psychological contexts.

7) Short Films About Neuroscience

These look fun.

One comment

  1. […] an article about online therapy has appeared on the BBC which I have linked on a post of the week here.  If you’re feeling brave, the article by James Coyne on the most recent post of the week […]

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