Jim van Os: Rethinking Biological Psychiatry


This week on the Mad in America podcast we interview Professor Jim van Os. 

Professor van Os is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, The Netherlands, and Visiting Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at King’s College, Institute of Psychiatry, London.

He trained in Psychiatry in Casablanca, Bordeaux and the Institute of Psychiatry and the Maudsley Royal Hospital in London.

In 2011, he was elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW); he appears on the 2014 Thomson-Reuter Web of Science list of the world’s most influential scientific minds of our time.

He is Director of Psychiatric Services at Maastricht University Medical Centre and runs a service for treatment-resistant depression and first episode psychosis.

I was keen to ask Professor van Os about his views on biological psychiatry, why we should sometimes challenge schizophrenia, psychosis and other diagnostic terminology, and how he sees the future of mental healthcare.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Jim became interested in Psychology and Psychiatry, partly because of the experiences of family members
  • That Jim felt that training in many parts of the world allowed him to see variations in psychiatric models and this led to him questioning the biological model
  • That Jim also saw how dominant the prescribing of medication but noticed the wide variation in practices
  • How Jim observed in France a willingness by the treating doctors to accept that they didn’t know what the root cause of a mental health difficulty
  • That some of the diagnoses that psychiatrists rely on are actually cultural agreements between professionals and that if a patient accepts the idea that they have a diseased brain, it can be limiting for that patient
  • That we should be able to admit that we don’t know causes but we can still help and support people who struggle with their mental health
  • That there is a 25% yearly prevalence of mental disorders, but many nations have a capacity for only 4% to 6% of the general population
  • That selection criteria to get help and support with their mental health just don’t work because we cannot precept outcomes for people
  • That there are interesting developments in eCommunities where people can participate in online communities to share experiences, for example ‘Proud to be Me’ in the Netherlands.
  • That diagnoses are starting to function as an economic measurement of mental illness and treatment and some cannot access treatment without a diagnosis, which perpetuate the diagnostic paradigm
  • That there were attempts in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) discussions to adopt ranges or dimensions of disorders, but the proposal was shot down
  • That it would have been historic if dimensions were adopted in the DSM because then the discussion between the clinician and the patient would have had to change
  • That there is some dimensionality in DSM V, represented as ‘spectrum disorders’ which are the first step towards acknowledging the variations inherent in human experiences
  • That Jim saw in his own family that the initial ‘relief’ of receiving a diagnosis was undone when more and more diagnoses were added
  • That a label of Schizophrenia can mean that other people do not know what to expect and find it difficult to relate psychologically to that person and their experiences
  • That the Maastricht User Research Centre has been discussing the language used in psychiatry, in particular the terms psychosis and schizophrenia and trying to find more helpful terms, for example hyper-meaning
  • That sometimes terms such as ‘susceptibility’ and ‘syndrome’ are far more helpful than giving someone the message that they have a brain disease
  • That biological psychiatry has been trying to reverse engineer and validate the concept of schizophrenia by investigating case control differences
  • That there is more awareness developing about the critical appraisal of diagnostic terminology
  • That the mental health sector should not be viewed as a separate entity, but should reinvent itself as an inclusive local community that is there to connect with people and their range of experiences
  • That patients often indicate that what got them better was community and connection and meaning and empowerment
  • That the User Research Centre, led by Dr. Peter Groot, have developed a solution to help patients withdraw slowly and gradually from their psychiatric medications
  • That when prescribing medication, we should encourage people to monitor their experiences to allow a better discussion about treatment continuing or stopping based on evidence
  • That if we suppress difficulties with medication, it can make it more difficult for the person to build up coping mechanisms

Relevant Links:

Professor Jim van Os

Tedx: Maastricht, Connecting to Madness

Jim van Os interview on Mad in America

Schizophrenia does not exist

Tapering Strips

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  1. I agree, “psychosis” should be thought of as a spectrum within the human experience. Today’s psychologists and psychiatrists believe dreams, gut instincts, thoughts and concerns are all “psychosis,” according to my medical records, which is taking the definition of “psychosis” too far, IMHO.

    And when such normal human experiences are misdiagnosed as “psychosis,” resulting in inappropriate antipsychotic prescriptions, the antipsychotics can actually create a “psychosis,” via anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning.


    Unfortunately, since antidepressant and antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome is inappropriately missing from the scientifically invalid DSM, it is alway misdiagnosed as one of the billable DSM disorders, thus of course mistreated.

    I personally found the antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome “psychosis” to be a “psychosis” which caused me to hear “voices” in my head, and they were the “voices” of satanic pedophiles. In other words, the psychiatric drugs induced an purely evil form of “psychosis.”

    Once I was finally weaned off the drugs, I then experienced a different type of “psychosis,” a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic “psychosis.” This type of “psychosis” was very different. As opposed to being a satanic form of “psychosis,” it was a oneness with the universe, staggeringly serendipitous, love filled, spiritual awakening, eventual born again type of “psychosis.”

    My experience is just one person’s experience of “psychosis,” however it is evidence that “psychosis” should indeed be considered a spectrum within the human experience. And it is evidence that what is labeled as “psychosis” is not always bothersome to the individual, thus forced and coerced treatment is inappropriate. People in the US, which is a country with freedom of religion, should be allowed to believe in God without being poisoned, after all. It’s a shame the psychiatrists don’t know this.

    But, then again, the psychiatrists don’t know it’s illegal to profiteer off of covering up child abuse en mass either, given “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).”

    Concerns and symptoms of child abuse are not brain diseases requiring drugs, they’re evidence of a crime. I do so hope the psychiatrists get out of the business of profiteering off of turning massive numbers of child abuse victims into the “mentally ill” with the psychiatric drugs some day soon, since this is of course illegal.

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  2. The PROBLEM with the very TITLE of this blog, is that psychiatry really isn’t worth a FIRST thought, much less a 2nd one!….
    “We’re psychiatry, we $ell drug$ for money, to help maintain the power & control of the Global Ruling Elites and Global Banksters over the peoples of the Planet. What the hell is there to **think** *about*….????”….
    (c)2017, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction
    (The DSM is nothing more than a catalog of billing codes. ALL of the bogus, so-called “mental illnesses” in it were INVENTED, to serve as excuses to sell drugs. That’s why there’s so MANY of them, – more “diseases”, more drug$ $old….. Dr. Van Os is one of the few, the exceptions which prove the rule….

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