In The Psychologist, Jonathan Roiser of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London grapples with why it is that neuroscience has continued to have difficulties helping improve psychiatric treatments.
“Over the past 25 years the pace of progress in neuroscience research has been extraordinary, with advances in both understanding and technology,” writes Roiser. “We might expect that this would stimulate improved understanding and treatment of mental health problems, yet in general this has not been the case. In fact, our standard treatment approaches have barely changed in decades, and still fail many people suffering from mental distress. Why is there this disconnect between knowledge and application? And could we be on the brink of an exciting new era of cooperation between the two disciplines, increasing the effectiveness of existing treatments and even suggesting new ones?”
Roiser analyzes several underlying problems in realizing this vision, including a “disconnect” between neuroscience research and mental health practice that “partly reflects the unresolved ‘hard’ problem of consciousness: How does the brain generate experience?”
“Mapping between activity in neurons or circuits and subjective experience remains a huge conceptual, indeed philosophical, challenge,” comments Roiser. “Good science (including clinical science) requires reliable measurement, and neuroscience deals with what can be measured objectively at the level of the brain… By contrast, clinical characterisations of mental health problems, whether conceptualised as categorical disorders or lying on a spectrum, are based on symptoms that in many cases only exist subjectively. In other words, mental health practice takes subjective experience as its starting point – there is no objective test for low mood, worry or hallucination.”
What has neuroscience ever done for us? (The Psychologist, April 2015)