Tunnel Vision of Different Mental Health Related Professionals

In 2014, I attended a depression conference run by The Economist. At the conference they had many speakers. At one stage there was a sociologist, neurologist, psychologist and psychotherapist on stage. When asked about the causes of depression the answers were all different:

  • Sociologist – social causes
  • Neurologist –  brain differences, possibly due to genetics etc
  • Psychologist – the way people think about the world
  • Psychotherapist – childhood
  • Psychiatrist – it’s chemical

Not all the professionals on stage had such well-defined tunnel vision, however some did. Sometimes training and experience within a profession can make us only see the world through a lens created by that profession.

There are multiple causes of depression, see this Harvard Article for different causes of depression. The problem with different.

Imagine a group of people that only had one of the five main senses each (we don’t have five senses: See Draper (2006)). For example one person can only see, the other can only smell etc. Now imagine these five people describing why a particular garden is so beautiful:

  • Ms Sight: The garden is so colourful, reds, greens etc. The shape of the trees are wondrous.
  • Mr Smell: The smell of the cut grass is blissful
  • Ms Hearing: The sound of the birds and the rustling leaves
  • Mr Touch: The texture of a rose petal
  • Ms Taste: The taste of the tomatoes

All these people are right, and yet their short-sightedness also makes them partly wrong. The beauty of a garden spans all the senses (and even more importantly there are elements of a garden we can’t see, that other creatures can see. See infra-red shots of flowers below).

Bee Versus Human Vision
Human’s vision (left image), bee’s vision (right image)

Depression itself has multiple causes, and so the treatment of it will need to target the causes. At the moment this obvious approach doesn’t seem to be taken. For example most CBT practitioners seem to believe that all depression is down to Negative Automatic Thoughts. If someone has a physiological difference in their brain that cause their depression, then no amount of CBT will help. Treatment resistant depression is where particular professionals have failed to cure someone’s depression using their tunnel-vision based expertise.

I wish the different types of mental health based professional would admit that there are multiple causes. It seems this fact is ignored. At the depression conference they even started arguing amongst each other, however their argument with each other is just as ridiculous as the people with the different senses discussing why the garden is beautiful.

Let’s hope one day said professionals will expand their awareness to include some of the multiple causes outside their field.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

2 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision of Different Mental Health Related Professionals

  • April 13, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Yes, I agree, especially about your comments on CBT. If only depression was as simple as some practitioners think!

    • April 13, 2015 at 8:11 am

      Yes definitely, some practitioners are quite open to multiple causes, and some aren’t. I would argue that it’s unethical of practitioners to not see the broader picture. Tunnel vision fails duty of care, and I’d consider it potential for medical negligence.


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