Genetic Root of Many Mental Disorders

A recent study showed genetic linking among autism, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disease, schizophrenia and major depression. The researchers noted the overlap of symptoms among these disorders and suggest that the disorders may be more like a continuum than five distinct disorders.

When I was in graduate school we discussed the artificiality of distinguishing one diagnosis from another, though it does provide for a heuristic to understanding symptom clusters—and provide for insurance reimbursement. I only provide a diagnosis to clients when they need it, either for insurance reimbursement or for their own piece of mind, instead focusing on symptom clusters (rather than syndromes) and severity.

Hopefully, as we learn more about the role of genetics in mental disorders this will improve the ways in which we treat them both pharmacologically (the biology of the disorder) as well as with psychotherapy (the circumstances that triggered the genetic predisposition)—and even learn when and how to engage in preventive psychotherapy to pre-empt the onset given a genetic predisposition.

Brain Mapping!

I sometimes joke that my profession is as “a brain surgeon.” I kid about this because the work of psychotherapy does actually re-wire connections in the brain. Brain research has now advanced to the point that we can see that where the cells in the brain “fire” (send an electrical impulse) changes on a microscopic level as a person unlearns an anxiety and learns a new way of being.

I pride myself as a therapist in having a working knowledge of brain structure and chemistry—but nowhere near what a neurologist (or brain surgeon) knows. However, I am very excited about the news that President Obama wants to fund a research program to map the brain. As one of the organizers of the project said on the Colbert Report last night, “it is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe.”

Through better understanding of where in the brain certain functions are performed we will be better able to address issues such as Alzheimer’s, autism, and prosthetic limbs. However, we are also likely to be able to better treat some of the less commonly known conditions such as aphasia (inability to either produce or comprehend speech) and agnosia (inability to recognize objects). While these are conditions with which I do not work, brain mapping could nonetheless help us better understand how memories affect (connect to) our current thoughts and behaviors and how things like love and lust relate to each other—understanding these phenomenon could seriously improve psychotherapy (in the same way that I believe that my current understanding of the physiologically of these things currently helps me do my job). This is exciting news to me!