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English Detective #33, Mental Health Research & Treatments: Feb.18, 2014
February 24, 2014

The current investigation (Introducing this issue):

Earlier newsletters have featured talks and readings on many aspects of psychology. Newsletters #9, 10, and 28 discuss cognitive neuroscience (including willpower research and studying how the brain learns language.) Newsletter 26 is on optimism and 27 on positive and motivational psychology.

The article and talk in this issue look at ways of treating (helping people with) mental disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, phobias, and mental illness.

Neuroscientist Thomas Insel speaks at TED about “A New Understanding of Mental Disorders.” He starts by pointing out that recent medical successes in treating heart disease and some cancers have come as people have learned how to recognize problems earlier. Doctors have found ways to diagnose and treat heart problems and some cancers while they are still fairly easy to treat.

Recent research on mental illnesses has shown that there are changes in brain function long before the illness is fully developed. Mr. Insel gives statistics to show what a major problem mental illness is, due to its frequency, major impacts on life, and the age of onset. (Most mental illnesses become obvious in the teen years or early 20s.)

He argues that we need to start scanning for mental illness early, instead of waiting for symptoms to appear. By recognizing early brain changes, doctors could treat mental illnesses early enough to avoid much of the suffering and loss they cause.

The New York Times article looks at the difference in results or outcomes when patients get therapies based on scientific evidence or not. Some therapists feel they can do better with an “eclectic approach,” combining a little of several therapies according to what they feel might work best instead of using scientifically-proven methods. (The article compares their approach to eating ‘dim sum’ at a Chinese restaurant—a little taste of many different dishes.)

The article talks about research on the results of different treatments. (How much did patients improve?) This research shows clearly that evidence-based treatments are more effective. Therapists may THINK their choice of different treatments is working, because patients don’t complain. (Instead, the patients may just look for a different therapist.)

One approach based on scientific evidence is cognitive behavioral therapy (C.B.T.), including treatments like exposure therapy. In exposure therapy a therapist helps a client face what he fears in a safe setting, a little at a time. Eventually his fear should diminish to a normal level, so that he can live an ordinary life.

The article concludes with suggested questions a person might want to ask a clinician (therapist) before starting treatment.

This week’s practice activity is a quiz on psychology vocabulary. It includes many words used in earlier newsletter readings, but gives some explanation and links before the quiz to help you review those words.

Your First Clue: Vocabulary Emphasized in this Issue

Behavioral, cognitive, disability, disorder, prevalent, schizophrenia, suicide, therapy, threshold, treatment. See the Psychology Vocabulary Quiz for more information and practice of many of these words.

Review (AWL) vocabulary: confine, manuals, practitioner. (Also practiced in the Psychology Vocabulary Quiz: abnormal, depression, psychology.)

A few notes about the new vocabulary:

Behavioral means something concerned with action (behavior) rather than thought.

Cognitive refers to thinking: mental processes like remembering, analyzing, evaluating, etc.

To confine is to limit. A person may be confined to a small space (often involuntarily, as in jail or house arrest): “The doctor confined him to bed for a week.” “A sonnet is confined to 14 lines of 10 syllables each, and haiku is restricted to 3 lines and no more than 17 syllables, but most poetry is not confined to a certain number of lines or syllables.”

A disability is a problem (often medical) that limits a person: poor vision or hearing, arthritis or limited mobility, or mental or emotional conditions that prevent people from doing what most are able to do. Disabilities can be temporary or permanent.

A disorder is also a mental or physical condition that causes problems. It usually involves abnormal behavior and ways of thinking that cause distress to a person.

Manual has two common meanings. As an adjective, it refers to using hands or the body (rather than machinery or the mind). A manual transmission in a car must be controlled by a person (in fact, using the foot rather than a hand), and manual labor is working with the hands rather than with books or papers.

The second meaning of manual is a book of instructions. A manual is the guide to using a tool or doing a certain kind of work. Each brand of car or computer has its own owner’s manual.

A practitioner is a person who practices a profession or a special technique or method.

Prevalent means common or generally accepted.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness often involving strange thoughts, confused speech, and hallucinations.

Suicide means to kill oneself.

Therapy means treatment. There are various kinds of physical and mental therapies, each with practitioners trained in them, advantages and disadvantages.

A threshold is a limit or boundary. (Its original meaning is the doorstep you cross over to go into or out of a house.) We talk about being on the threshold of a new life or discovery, meaning the start of something completely new.

Treatment is the way to handle or deal with a problem, disease, or disorder. For example, when medics arrive at an accident they give first aid treatment to people that are injured. Doctors treat bacterial illnesses with antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not an effective treatment of viral illnesses.

Getting the whole story: reading/listening practice:

Click here for the talk on treating mental illness earlier.

Here is the New York Times’ article on effective therapies.

Follow the Clues (Vocabulary Practice):

Click here for psychology vocabulary practice.

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Coming in the next issue: Improving Medical Care

In case you missed these: Earlier issues of English Detective have articles on a number of topics, plus practice with all 570 words from the Academic Word List. You can check them out with the link to the back issues page below (or find what words were practiced each issue here.

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