In the 1010 course we frequently discussed how psychological theory and research vary depending on one's position regarding the role played in psychological phenomena by genetic factors and environmental factors. Mental illness is one category of phenomena where current emphasis is on genetic predispositions to mental illness and the treatment of mental illness through drug regimens that impact the brain. My York Psychology Chris Green recently drew my attention to the BBC program In the Mind and to this blog post elicited by one episode of the program. The post features an eloquent letter from psychologist Richard Bentall arguing for greater attention to the ways in which experience, particularly childhood traumatic experience, should be studied as a source of mental illness in adulthood.
Several of the comments at the end of the post are also informative; the one by Elspeth Webb is particularly interesting for its argument that psychologists do themselves a disservice by proceeding as though mental illness were the result of a single kind of event. She writes, for example:
"The weight of evidence that has emerged from the life course sciences over the last 20 years or so, the increasing understanding of the impact of early life experiences on the way the brains develop, wire up and function, and our increasing understanding of epigentic mechanisms mean that we need to look at mental illness as a function of:
1 our genes
2 how the environment influences and sometimes limit how those genes are expressed
3 how adverse environments in early years directly affects early brain development ( with lifelong consequences for structure and function)
4 how psychologically adverse experiences later in childhood and adulthood interact with the first three."