Call to action follows major international conference on psychological treatments – writing today in Nature, leading researchers, including CBU’s Emily Holmes, have called on clinical scientists and neuroscientists to work together to advance the scientific understanding of psychological treatments.
The article is an outcome of an international conference held by the charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health. In it, the authors argue that neuroscience’s understanding of the brain has much to learn from evidenced-based psychological treatments, and that new interdisciplinary research could lead to advances in treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
However, citing a ‘culture gap’ between neuroscientists and clinical scientists, they point out that psychological therapies have yet to benefit fully from the dramatic range of recent advances in science related to emotion, behavior and cognition. Part of the problem, the authors argue, is that that many people still challenge the idea of psychological treatments as scientific and are unaware of the evidence base.
Moreover, despite psychological treatments having a strong evidence base for addressing many of the major mental health conditions, the authors point out that not enough is known about why and how they work. Current research funding in to the area is also significantly lacking, standing at just 15% of all UK mental health research spend.
Professor Emily Holmes from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, and one of the authors said:
“Psychological treatments are a lifeline to many people, and they could be to so many more. We have the opportunity to understand and optimise existing psychological treatments such as CBT by exploring the mechanisms behind them –both the psychological and biological. This research endeavor could especially help in areas where we need to improve treatments, for children and for older people, for example.“
Three steps to address the ‘culture gap’ are outlined in the article: uncovering the mechanisms behind psychological treatments, optimising psychological treatments and generating new ones, and forging links between clinical and laboratory researchers. To address these, they call for clinical scientists and neuroscientists to meet by the end of 2015 to ‘hammer out’ the ten most pressing research questions for psychological treatments.
Professor Peter Dayan, Director of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London, and attendee at the MQ international conference added:
“The success of psychological treatments should provide substantial input into our understanding of both normal and abnormal neural information processing, and vice versa. However, it was clear at the MQ conference that this critical, bi-directional, opportunity is very far from being seized. This is to the detriment of understanding and treatment. This commentary is a welcome call to bridge this lamentable chasm, and build a new, integrated, science of mental health.”