Post Of The Week – Thursday 10th July 2014

1) The Science Of The Mind

This was broadcast over a week ago but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.

Several interesting people talking about interesting things.


2) Mental Elf- Comparing Psychological and Biological Therapies

So much of what we do about therapies comes down to how we judge their effectiveness. We use outcome studies in our course and sometimes raise issues about their validity.

This article covers several important points. Specifically …

  • when you compare therapies for mental disorders with other sorts of medical intervention,  therapies for mental disorders aren’t too bad
  • biological therapies are investigated more often and have bigger sample
  • research for biological therapies are much more likely to have proper control groups
  • control groups for psychological therapies studies are often people on waiting lists. The nocebo effect applies to them. They do not think they can get better until the treatment starts so the natural process of getting better does not apply to them. That makes the therapies with which being on a waiting list is compared look good
  • we really know very little about the combined effects of different therapies even though these are assumed to be the most successful treatments available

All of these are things we think about in our course at one time or another.


3) Human Brain Project

I have blogged before about the BRAIN project in the US. In Europe, the Human Brain Project is being given large amounts of money to do something vaguely similar. It is hitting some problems, as this article explains.

It is tempting to think of this in the same way as space projects in the 1960s and 1970s. NASA lands an American on the moon while European governments mess around on smaller scale projects and get nowhere.  There is a more serious point though. The story exposes the fact that despite all of the hype, we do not have a clear idea about how far neuroscience can go in the next few years.


4) Common Disorders

I used to teach people about Cushing’s Syndrome as part of the Depression topic. The story is a simple one. Cushing’s Syndrome has symptoms that look very like depression. It is caused by the secretion of too much cortisol. So the idea is that there is a thing called depression, the causes of which we don’t really understand but which is assumed to have the same causes in everyone diagnosed with it. There are then rarer conditions based on a disorder which we can identify that look a bit like the more common one.

This article aims to deconstruct this idea by suggesting that as we know more about the human genome, all of the cases currently given a big label – depression, schizophrenia, autism – will turn out to have a specific cause in particular genetic mutations. The big labels become an umbrella for lots of individual disorders, all of which have a specific and known cause. That clearly has implications for treatment.


5) Mad In America – Searching For Disorders

Mad In America is a critical psychiatry website. In this article, the idea that disorders in children are too readily diagnosed is explored.

The premise is simple. Awareness of mental health issues has gone up, meaning that people are more likely to be diagnosed. If people are diagnosed, they have to be treated. The quickest and most effective treatment, at least in the short term, is often drugs. Drug companies get involved in the screening of children because they can make money out of their treatment. Drugs are given to children when their effects are often poorly understood and dosage is hard to determine. Read the article and see what you think.


6) Probing The Brain

Much of what we know about the brain comes from brain scans. It is not everything though. The Mukamel research we look at when studying mirror neurons comes operations on people with epilepsy. As an extension to that, this article looks at what operations on people with epilepsy are telling us about memory.


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