Qualitative Versus Quantitative (Waging War on the Medical Model of Psychology)

The medical model. The flavor of the week and spirit of the times. It’s the prevailing theoretical approach in America and some other parts of the world whether we’re discussing healthcare in general or psychology in particular. To give a vastly oversimplified description of what the medical model suggests in relation to psychology, one could simply state “it’s ALL chemicals and genes… it’s biology”. The medical model proposes that all psychological and emotional disorders and virtually anything that would bring an individual into a therapy office is the product of a complex interaction of neurochemicals in relation to genetic predispositions. In this view, experiences and environment are taken in to account but generally play second fiddle to biology (this is particularly true in a psychiatrist office where environment is almost completely ignored and medication, designed to alter brain chemistry, is focused on exclusively). Again, stated in an overly simplistic manner, if you’re depressed, it’s not because your mother died, it’s because you’re deficient in the neurotransmitter serotonin or dopamine and because depressive disorders run in your family (for example). These are VAST generalizations and I’m leaving some things out. It’s not nearly as clear cut as I’m presenting it here. I know many professionals who, although practicing from a medical model orientation, still take into great account experiences and the person as a whole. But I state things in these extreme positions to illustrate a point. The problem worth mentioning is that this nature only approach (in the nature vs. nurture argument) is the one that is presented to a generally uninformed public…AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS BUYING IT COMPLETELY. The growing attitude in America is “I’m sad, must be my medication”. The problem lies in the title of this blog. The medical model inherently encourages the idea that if one is feeling poorly then it is directly, specifically and ONLY because one has “a chemical imbalance” (i.e, one is lacking in a concrete, measureable, controllable level of a certain brain chemical). However, I believe that this view is largely false or at the very least, detrimental. Human existence is qualitative and not quantitative in nature. The human experience is very often NOT entirely measureable and controllable. Human existence rests on a level that can be felt but not always quantified and described. I would argue that a researcher could construct an instrument to measure ideas such as consciousness, love and compassion and anger and depression but never accurately encompass what it truly FEELS like to experience these things. Some of the qualites just mentioned could be argued to be a large part of what constitutes the true essence of human kind. However, they cannot be accurately measured because they are NOT quantitiative in nature. They are qualities. This is what is meant when I say qualitative rather than quantitative. The medical model assumes that human behavior and emotions and thoughts can be seen and dealt with in a logical concrete manner, and can be controlled. It inherently encourages the thought pattern that emotions and behaviors are just chemicals levels that can be expressed mathematically rather than being of a transcendent and often indescribable nature as I believe they truly are. It encourages the detached view of “I’m depressed because I’m bipolar, and I’m not responsible for that, my pills are”, This view renders us helpless and impotent and detracts from the essense of what it is to be huamn. If accurate, this model should have entirely cured the human species of neurosis and psychosis. Nearly every client I have ever worked with has stated clearly that this is not the case. This lack of effectiveness begs the question of its relevance. I would suggest that this model is not only vastly unhelpful but largely detrimental to the human race. It suggests that human existence is nothing more than stimulus/response. It suggests that the experience of being human can be put in capsule form. I’d like to believe and do believe that although we are chemically influenced, there’s also something about us that can’t be named or described, that we are transcendent, that there is an essence that cannot be measured but only felt. In short, that we are qualitative rather than quantitative.

Here’s the unrelated song: (From Scotland!!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6shmJaOD3Q

And the unrelated recommended reading: The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Daniel Levinson

About Brandon Peters, LPC

Brandon Peters began his career in mental health approximately 11 years ago while pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas. During his training he worked as a psychiatric technician at the Piney Ridge Treatment Center for adolescent sex offenders in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He later relocated to Houston, Texas and obtained his master's degree in counseling from the University of Houston. Since then, he has worked with clients in residential treatment, psychiatric hospitals, school based therapy, home based therapy, support groups and outpatient therapy. He has worked with children as young as 4, adolescents, and adults in areas such as individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, case management, play therapy and crisis intervention. Brandon Peters now owns and operates a private psychotherapy clinic conducting individual, group and family therapy and specializes in Existential Therapy. Additionally, he is a board approved LPC Supervisor.
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