At the end of a WordPress Blogpost written by a mental health professional, I spotted an advertisement. We know the type, the ones with the catchy titles: “Big Pharma is not going to like this!” The ad showed a picture of a male “physician in a white coat”, with of course, 30 + years’ experience and “internationally recognized as an expert”.
Another tell-tale sign were the pictures of a before and after MRI-scan of a brain, and the colourful ad also included a graph that is going to convince us that research had been done and that this herbal supplement was far better than a placebo and the existing anti-anxiety drugs. This ad was an example of “scienceploitation” cashing in on the hype on Biomania (I will explain this below).
Timothy Caulfield is a Canadian professor who teaches law at the university of Alberta. He, however, is more known for his television documentaries in which he debunks pseudoscientific myths. I have written about him before.
Caulfield is the host of the Netflix documentary “a user’s guide to cheating death”. He introduced the term “scienceploitation” for those “professionals” who use scientific language to promote treatments that are not grounded in science.
In the Netflix documentary, Caulfield explains the process of detoxing and extreme diets for the purpose of losing weight and what it really does to the body. He took on the hype of DNA testing, the false claims of stem-cell treatment and many other topics.
Jon Allen, PhD, is a professor of Psychiatry in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Baylor College of Medicine and he is a Senior Staff Psychologist in the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas.
Allen is known for his humble and no-nonsense common-sense approach in the treatment of trauma related symptoms. Allen has written books that are accessible to all, from mental health professionals to people who want to obtain more knowledge about trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/ Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSD/PTSI) either due to wanting to heal from the symptoms they experience or because they want to help a loved one.
Allen uses the term “mentalizing” which means to understand one’s own as well as other people’s mental states. Allen states that knowing more about trauma is healing.
The term “biomania” Allen uses to refer to a movement in neuro-science that perceives mental health disorders as a brain disease.
Allen makes it clear that neuro-science has a future and already has made enormous contributions to understanding brain trauma better. Examples include concussions and conditions such as Parkinson, Alzheimer type dementia and other types of dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Although fascinating, using brain imaging to find evidence of a brain disease may lead to treatments that do not consider that there is an individual attached to that brain and that the development of symptoms as those in PTSI is complicated.
Allen is less impressed with the use of brain terminology when talking about mental health disorders as in the end this is not helping people to heal from PTSI or to help people to cope with depression and anxiety. Allen is cautious to not overemphasize neuro-biological markers as it does not consider the individual. Allen is afraid that referring to mental health disorders as a “brain disease” will increase rather than reduce stigma.
The interest in neuro-science has opened business opportunities to those who unscrupulously cash in on the hype. The ad I referred to prior is only one of many examples of scienceploitation. Here are a few more statements that mean nothing but sound good to the lay person.
“The mind narrates what the nervous system knows”; “Healing the body-mind from a quantum level”; “Brainspotting [is] change and healing at the neurological level and aims to ground relational attunement in brain science”.
Treating the symptoms of mood disorders when perceiving the conditions as a brain disease will lead to the prescription of more psychotropic medication, such as SSRIs and the marketing of herbal alternatives, while forgetting that life happens and that making changes in life can help people to feel better. This includes seeking help from certified mental health professionals.
We do not need to be scientists to understand that having meaningful relationships based on respect and trust make us feel better. We know that simple things such as more sleep, eating healthy food and leading a more active life, while avoiding excessive stress, is important. Big pharma might not like that either, but the ones who like it the least are those who try to sell us lies under a veneer of “science”.
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