Psychotherapy and its Role in Psychiatric Practice: A Position Paper. I. Psychiatry as a Psychobiological Discipline

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Economic, political, and ideological landscapes have impacted the practice of psychiatry throughout its evolution as a medical discipline. Despite enormous scientific advances over the course of the past century, many psychiatrists continue to operate with a split Cartesian picture of mind versus brain and entrenched ideological positions ranging from biological “chemical imbalance” to rigidly followed manualized psychotherapy approaches, both of which frequently result in fractured clinical care. With the impact of systemic economic and political pressures in Canada and the United States, the attention to the doctor-patient relationship has taken a back seat to high-volume practices, computerized assessment tools, and the focus on evidence-based treatments for behaviorally defined syndromes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that often come at the expense of the patient’s experience of his or her illness. We spend much time teaching the next generation of psychiatrists what to prescribe versus how to prescribe; what manualized treatments to administer versus questioning why our patients engage in dysfunctional patterns of thinking, feeling, and relating to others, and what impact these patterns may have on their interaction with us in the here-and-now of the treatment setting. In this paper, we propose an integrative psychobiological model, in which biological interventions carry personal meanings, and relational transactions in the treatment setting are a form of learning that results in lasting physiological changes in the brain. Psychiatry needs to reconnect with its roots as a science of attachment and meaning, in which attention to the objective, subjective, and relational domains of the patient-provider experience is equally foundational for any successful treatment outcome.

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