One way to talk to people who are comfortable with the disease model of mental illness about how limiting it is, is to point out that there are many missing links in the relationship between current psychiatric medications and science’s understanding of human emotions. Just because a model suggests a course of treatment doesn’t mean it is a completely scientific account of what’s going on with the person who is suffering.
Incomplete Understanding of A Disease Kills People
The medical profession has often had unsound models of illness, and used destructive and ineffective treatments before it had a completely scientific account of a given illness. Before it was clear that bacteria caused infection, there were a lot of treatments for illnesses resulting from infections, but none of them worked.
Before the microbe model gained acceptance. Western medicine balanced vital fluids, the “humors,” to improve health. This involved blood-letting and inducing vomiting, which made the illnesses worse. It seems likely that such medical treatment contributed to the death of George Washington.
After the microbe theory of illness was accepted, antibiotics and hygienic practices could be used to cure infectious disease and stop its spread.
Science Has No Real Understanding of Human Emotions
Understanding of human emotions is far more complex than bacterial infection, and while there is a lot of interesting scientific study of the brain and nervous system, it hasn’t yet produced a simple model that can guide a physician in managing the emotions of a person in crisis.
In the meantime, the medical profession uses the drugs and hospital practices it has, without a complete understanding of human emotions.
Focusing on the limits of current scientific knowledge may make it easier for disease-model adherents to think about treatments that address the social or behavioral dimensions of serious emotional distress. When we have a real understanding of human emotions, it will be possible to design treatments for crisis that are both more effective and less destructive than current treatments.
Emotions are about interactions between people as much as what goes on inside the body.
Rather than expect agreement from disease-model adherents, we can help them see that we are interested in the possible social and behavioral treatments that will be founded upon this future scientific understanding of human emotions. To the degree they are interested in treatments that are more fully based in scientific knowledge, they will have an interest in what these social and behavioral approaches have to offer.