Biopsychiatry – Mental Illness as “Brain Disease” – the major problem with modern psychiatry

Have you heard that mental illness, according to some in the profession of psychiatry (mainly in the United States) is “brain disease”? What do you think? Is it a coincidence that many studies aiding in these theories of what is known as biopsychiatry are being made on the basis of the outcomes of studies that are largely funded by pharmaceutical companies in the United States? Do you think that all psychiatrists or even all psychologists agree with this un-proven conclusion? Many do  not agree. One very well known opponent of his own profession’s all-too-common practice in recent years is Australian psychiatrist, Dr. Niall (Jock) McLaren. I interviewed Dr. McLaren on Friday July 23, 2010, at 7pm EST on The Psyche Whisperer Radio Show on


Niall (Jock) McLaren, MD, is an Australian psychiatrist, author and theoretician. His work opposes the mainstream view in psychiatry to the extent that he argues modern psychiatry has no scientific basis whatsoever. However, he insists that he is not “anti-psychiatry,” but a committed scientist following his duty of criticizing the prevailing models in his field in order to improve it. He is the author of the two books, Humanizing Madness: Psychiatry and the Cognitive Neurosciences. 2007; and Humanizing Psychiatry: The Biocognitive Model. 2009. He is working on another book due out later this year.

“McLaren has never held an academic post and has had practically no involvement in teaching, either medical students or post-graduate trainees in psychiatry. At the beginning of his training in psychiatry, he was interested in the biology of mental disorders but soon realized that many of the claims being made by biological psychiatrists were simply not supported by the state of neurosciences. At the same time, he developed an interest in psychotherapy and delved into psychoanalysis but soon reached the same conclusion, that analysts were making claims which went beyond the available evidence. In particular, he noted the way they quoted from Freud, analysed the quote and determined it was correct.  This led him directly to the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind, as well as studies in history and epistemology. When he was accepted as a PhD candidate, he had no training or qualifications in philosophy but was required to complete several philosophy units before proceeding. His books are the culmination of a long and, he says, lonely journey. The response of mainstream psychiatry in Australia to his work ranges from indifference to hostility.  The author does not claim to be “anti-psychiatry.” As a psychiatrist with 35 years diverse experience in difficult and remote areas (including extensive work with veterans and aboriginals), he insists his interest lies in building the foundations for a better psychiatry: “A critical analysis of the logical status of modern psychiatry shows that psychiatry has no rational basis to its practice, its teaching and its research. At best, it is a protoscience.” In his view modern psychiatry is currently operating within the Kuhnian realm of “normal science.” He regards psychoanalysis and behaviorism as historical aberrations, eighty-year deviations which could have been averted if psychiatrists had looked critically at what was being offered.”

“Similarly, he argues that biological psychiatry is “mere scientism,” the inappropriate application of scientific methods and procedures to questions with no empirical content. The claim that mental disorder can be reduced to a matter of brain disorder is, he insists, a metaphysical claim which cannot be resolved by brain scans or blood tests: “The claim that all mental disorder is due to a chemical imbalance of the brain is an ideological claim, where ideology preconceives reality.” He emphasizes that the major problem with modern psychiatry is that it lacks a unified model of the mind and has become entrapped in a biological reductionist paradigm. The reasons for this biological shift are intuitive as reductionism has been very effective in other fields of science and medicine. However, despite reductionism’s efficacy in explaining the smallest parts of the brain this does not explain the mind, which is where he contends the majority of psychopathology stems from. An example would be that every aspect of a computer can be understood scientifically down to the very last atom, however this does not reveal the program that drives this hardware.” (Source – Wikipedia)


Personality Disorder – (From Wikipedia – by Paige Lovitt )

[In his book Humanizing Psychiatry] “He begins with defining personality as “the distinguishing, habitual forms of interaction between the individual and her environment in the stable, adult modes of behavior…personality just is a set of rules” and argues that previous methods of defining personality are but mere typologies (i.e., personality as described by behaviorism). Typologies do not describe or determine the roots of personality but merely put personality into groupings which can then predict future actions based on previous actions. From a psychiatry perspective this falls short because the therapist’s goal is to modify behavior by reconciling the personality and guiding it.




Listen to internet radio with A.J. Mahari on Blog Talk Radio


However, the output of personality is not static and can vary depending upon the situation and the largely unconscious rules which guide it. An example in the book reveals “consider Mr. James Smith, a man of normal intellect and no compelling idiosyncrasies, who is sitting quietly on a park bench somewhere. He brings to his bench a personal background, a huge, rich history of events dating almost from the day he was born. His head is full of rules derived from his myriad life experiences, some of which he could tell you but most of which he couldn’t. These rules amount to his personality (note I didn’t say rules are identical with personality,; a generative mechanism is not the same as its output, of which more later). When something happens near him, his reaction is determined by a high-speed and unreportable interaction between what he sees and his unique set of rules. some of his rules are more or less fixed and won’t vary much from one year to the next, but some are more fluid, even a little unpredictable. If, today, a man comes past and asks him for money, Mr. Smith may be inclined to smile indulgently and hand over a few coins. However, another day, he may have had an argument with his wife or his boss and not be feeling so chipper; this time, the same wheedling request may elicit only a snarl to get a haircut and a job. His personality hasn’t changed, and the inconsistency doesn’t mean he has a personality disorder, he’s just being normal. Normality is a huge, multidimensional range and behavior is only disordered at the extremes.” Additionally, since personality is guided by rules coded in memory “therefore, anything that interferes with memory can affect the rules we call personality, and anything that affects current computational capacity will affect the application of those rules.”

Personality disorder is then defined, “if the rules governing a person’s life are internally inconsistent, or there are so many of them that he can’t reach a decision, or they generate disabling emotions or cause repeated conflict with his neighbors, then we say he has a personality disorder.” However, the major problem with personality disorders is that the “distorted rules give rise to the disordered behavior and generates an output state which serves to reinforce the rules. That is, either directly or indirectly, the individual’s behavior or emotions are such as to convince him that his beliefs or rules are correct (therefore creating a positive feedback loop of psychopathology, ie a vicious cycle). Of course, he doesn’t refer to them as rules; he simply knows what is right.” The author lists several examples but one of widespread significance is “I’m stupid, ugly and worthless. I hate myself.” which leads to “if my girlfriend looks at another man, she’s probably thinking of leaving me.””

The author argues that the path of mental wellness should involve replacing destructive rules with more adaptive standards. He contends that in general religion, the Freudian model, relaxation therapy, and many other therapies fall short because they seek to “suppress the output without changing the pathological factors generating the output.”