Professor Peter Kinderman: Rethinking mental health and well-being

Interior block 3Professor Peter Kinderman has launched a free online course

Professionals working in the field of mental health care are facing major changes in the way we understand emotional distress and offer help to patients.

Traditional approaches to mental health problems, including the use of diagnosis, assume that symptoms are the consequence of biological illnesses. This is now being challenged, along with the reliance on medication for treatment, by new research that suggests environmental, social and psychological factors are more important than previously thought.

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of the Institute of Psychology Health and Society at the University of Liverpool, explains here what to expect for the future of mental health care, ahead of the launch of his free online course – ‘Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture’.

What has prompted new thinking around mental health care?

“Recent scientific advances in understanding human psychology suggests that traditional ‘disease-model’ thinking about mental health is profoundly flawed, and far-reaching changes are required in how we plan and commission services.”

“Our present approach to helping people in acute emotional distress is severely hampered by old-fashioned and unscientific ideas about the nature and origins of mental health problems and vulnerable people suffer as a result of inappropriate treatment.”

Why is it important to explore other models of care?

“The time has come for a wholesale reform of mental health services. We must move away from the ‘disease-model’, which assumes that emotional distress is merely symptomatic of biological illness, and instead embrace a model of mental health and well-being that recognises our essential and shared humanity.

“I would propose a radical new ‘manifesto’ for mental health and well-being: services should be based on the premise that the origins of distress are largely social and we should replace ‘diagnoses’ with straightforward descriptions of problems.

How might this impact on the medication offered to patients?

“Health services should radically reduce the use of medication, and use it pragmatically rather than presenting it as ‘treatment’, and should establish residential services based on a social, rather than medical, ethos.

“Adopting this approach would result in a fundamental shift from a medical to a psychosocial focus.  It would see a move from hospital to residential social care and a substantial reduction in the prescription of medication.

“I would like to see a greater involvement of GPs in mental health care, with a commensurate reduction in our reliance on traditional psychiatry. Training or retraining of current workers in mental health care in more psychosocial approaches should also be accelerated.”

What can we expect next in order to move this research forward?

“The summer of 2014 will see several key events in the development of these ideas.  An international group of researchers and clinicians will meet in Washington D.C at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention to share best practice on alternatives to the medical model of psychiatry.

“In September I will publish my book ‘A Prescription for Psychiatry’ which will set out these ideas in an accessible way.

“Later that month, the University of Liverpool will launch a new free online course, ‘Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture’ that will allow members of the public to discover the science behind these ideas and discuss new approaches to mental health and well-being, as well as discover the implications for the way we provide key services.”

Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture begins on the 8 September 2014.  To register for the course please visit:

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