Biology of Mind

I know: the biology of mental illness makes your head explode. Too geeky, too much talk of nature VS. nurture. Over-promising and underperforming false starts in finding mental disorder's homes on the genome. The tiresome sense that either biology or psychology has to "win."

Maybe it takes a Nobel brain to explain why studying genes isn't futile, isn't a fight between nature and nurture, and why the Biology of Mind is a boon to psychotherapy.


  1. Thanks, Laura, for posting this link. I am sending a copy to my sister, who had her first and only child at age 42. This son, now 16, has severe autism, IQ 35, does not speak. There is no autism in her or her H's family. Every bit of info like this helps her to understand this devastating condition better.

    My own D has an ED and bipolar disorder (not in any other family members), and was born when I was 37. Even though I am doing everything I can to help her cope with and get treatment for these illnesses, I want to know why she has them. Maybe someday, we'll know, thanks to this type of research.

  2. Hi Laura,

    I have only skimmed over the contents of this site.

    Please may I ask why it is that people get better with therapy if it is a "brain disorder" (and without medication). Why would someone develop an eating disorder if there was not some pressure on them (through family, peers or society)to be thin?

    I do not mean to make anyone feel guilty. I do believe that those who develop an ED would probably develop another mental health problem in other circumstances.

    Also, what explanation would you have for a possible 50% of people with EDs having experienced abuse? A brain disorder would in no way explain this away.

    As someone who is interested in mental health problems I imagine an ED sufferer would resent ED being described as a "brain disorder". It implies that they are somehow genetically flawed.

    I don't beleive in blame but also do not believe that this approach is helpful to developing an understanding of ED's.

  3. Anonymous,

    I am glad to address your concerns.

    Brain disorders respond to therapy because brains respond to the environment. Therapy is a very effective tool for changing thinking patterns and neural connections.

    Eating disorders seem to be about wanting to be thin, but I think of that as a symptom of an eating disorder rather than a cause. If you look back in history, or at different cultures, there are other reasons people have given for under-eating (religious feeling, political protest, fear of illness).

    Abuse is no more common in anorexia than the general population. It may be higher in bulimia, but that is still unclear. That said, abuse is a horrible problem in society and one need not have an eating disorder for abuse to be addressed and victims treated.

    Yes, I think people with mental illnesses do often resent being told there is somethign wrong with them - but so do diabetics and people with other illnesses. But that doesn't change the truth, and for some people it is a comfort to know that it is not their fault and that others know just how hard it is to recover.

    I don't know what approach exactly you are referring to, but if you are talking about the Maudsley approach the fact is: it is the only evidence-based approach for adolescent anorexia and the leading authorities in the field find it both helpful and explanatory. The history of eating disorder treatment is a sad one, and it is time to rethink it in light of new and more hopeful information.

  4. Anonymous,

    If I'm reading you correctly, you're suggesting that calling EDs "brain disorders" is an unhelpful approach? I agree that it's an oversimplification of a very complex subject. Scientists are beginning to understand the genetic and neurobiological factors that predispose a person to develop an eating disorder (not the same thing as "cause"). Interaction with environment is likely to be in a factor in development of a full blown eating disorder. I'd also point out that "EDs are brain disorders" is not a tenet of the Maudsley approach.

  5. I'm not sure that brain disorder is an oversimplification any more than calling diabetes a metabolic disorder is oversimplifying. It doesn't tell the whole story, but is an important starting point.

    Very true that the Family-Based Maudsley approach has nothing to do with EDs being a brain disorder - the Maudsley approach is based on an "agnostic" stand on cause.

    My beliefs should not be confused with that of brain disorders OR of Maudsley.

  6. I stand corrected if I am wrong but many times on this site you state that ED's are a "brain disorder" or something to that effect.

    I can assure you that I was not commenting on the Maudsley approach.

    By "approach" I meant your approach to ED causes solely being a disordered brain.

    I agree that wanting to be thin is not a cause of ED's but may focus mental health problems in an ED direction.
    The other examples of not eating would not be classified as ED so are not relevant in my opinion (see DSM5).

    I am extremely glad that you believe that therapy can be helpful in changing the way the brain functions:

    "Brain disorders respond to therapy because brains respond to the environment. Therapy is a very effective tool for changing thinking patterns and neural connections."

    I would like to point out that therapy is largely just re parenting.

    Therefore, if therapy can help an ED, incorrect parenting can cause the opposite. In other words "change thinking patterns and neural connections".

    I am sure this is not always the case but believe it often is.

    There are sure to be other factors and I have great compassion for the suffering, anger, lack of support and anxiety parents experience.

    It must be truly dreadful for those parents who were and are "good parents". Even for those who made mistakes - they did their best and meant no harm.

    Let us all be a little more open minded about these things.


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