I’m a mental health counselor and art therapist. The deeper I get into the mental health field, the more I see how much we don’t know.
Given that mental health is rooted in the brain, it is difficult to know anything for sure in psychology. Even the statement I made about mental health being rooted in the brain is up for debate. Some research is showing that key chemicals to mental wellbeing are produced in the gut. Others theorize the importance of the vagal nerve or other parts of the body.
Much of psychology is theory after theory after theory.
When we talk about the theories enough, we begin to talk about them like they’re facts - when they’re not.
In graduate school, I learned about neural connections, brain chemistry, and brain development across the lifespan. I was specifically taught that the teenage brain isn’t fully developed, which leads to more impulsivity in teens. I was taught this as fact - as brand new breaking science.
I recently read the book, “Sexy But Psycho” by Dr. Jessica Taylor. In it, she breaks down how theories about brain development are just that - theories. She even debunked the theory that the undeveloped state of the teenage brain leads to more impulsivity. Something I thought was fact.
How little we know and how much we act like “we know” has also impacted my life personally. I thought I had a firm understanding of autism. I was taught what it looks like in graduate school and the DSM-5 laid out the symptoms of autism very clearly.
So when my therapist suggested I might be autistic, I balked at the idea. She suggested I read the book “Divergent Mind,” which discusses how autism presents differently in women. I felt like I was reading about myself. Once I had a full, more accurate picture of autism, I was able to see that I am indeed autistic.
I wanted to know more. I wanted facts. I wanted clear answers. As I’ve researched autism more, the more I see how little we know. The more I see how much we’re throwing around theories and ideas. I have no doubt that we will have a different conceptualization of autism in 25 years.
I think it’s great that the mental health field continues to evolve and grow.
What I have a problem with is presenting things like WE KNOW now. That our theories are hard facts. That the “disorders” in the DSM-5 are permanent and complete. When they’re not.
I think the mental health field, its practitioners, and those who receive mental health treatment would be far better off if we remembered how malleable the field of psychology actually is.
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