Psychiatric diagnoses of mental illness 'lack scientific evidence'
There is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are valid or useful, according to the leading body representing Britain's clinical psychologists.
In a groundbreaking move that has already prompted a fierce backlash from psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society's division of clinical psychology (DCP) will tomorrow issue a statement declaring that, given the lack of evidence, it is time for a "paradigm shift" in how the issues of mental health are understood. The statement effectively casts doubt on psychiatry's predominantly biomedical model of mental distress – the idea that people are suffering from illnesses that are treatable by doctors using drugs. The DCP said its decision to speak out "reflects fundamental concerns about the development, personal impact and core assumptions of the (diagnosis) systems", used by psychiatry.
Dr Lucy Johnstone, a consultant clinical psychologist who helped draw up the DCP's statement, said it was unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes. "On the contrary, there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances, such as bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse," Johnstone said.
The writer Oliver James, who trained as a clinical psychologist, welcomed the DCP's decision to speak out against psychiatric diagnoses and stressed the need to move away from a biomedical model of mental distress to one that examined societal and personal factors. "We need fundamental changes in how our society is organised to give parents the best chance of meeting the needs of children," he said.
But Professor Simon Wessely, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said it was wrong to suggest psychiatry was focused only on the biological causes of mental distress. And he defended the need to create classification systems for mental disorder.
"A classification system is like a map," Wessely explained. "And just as any map is only provisional, ready to be changed as the landscape changes, so does classification."