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Free Content White Paper: Brain Scan Research

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Recently, there have been intense debates within the mental health field regarding the validity of the current diagnostic system, how to best work with individuals in distress, and what constitutes "mental illness." Proponents of a more biologically focused psychiatry are calling for a shift from a system of many discrete mental disorders based on somewhat arbitrary lists of symptoms to one that focuses on differences in brain activity, brain structure, and/or soon-to-be-discovered biomarkers as the basis for diagnostic categorization. Several national and federally funded organizations throughout the world, including the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States, have publicly avowed to support technologies and research focused on discovering brain-based pathology at the explicit expense of studies examining psychosocial factors and preventative measures for human suffering. Although the motivation for this shift is understandable, it continues to rely on a disease model based on an implausible reductionist view of human nature and contradicts robust research findings. It is likely that this new research focus will not only fail to achieve the breakthroughs it aims for, it will also serve to entrench current flawed assumptions about emotional distress to the detriment of many. By focusing on a narrow, brain-based etiology of emotional suffering, crucial factors, such as poverty, violence, family disharmony, and discrimination are marginalized or ignored. The need for a more comprehensive approach is discussed.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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