Body-Subjects and Disordered Minds: Treating the 'Whole' Person in Psychiatry

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How should we deal with mental disorder - as an "illness" like diabetes or bronchitis, as a "problem in living", or what? This book seeks to answer such questions by going to their roots, in philosophical questions about the nature of the human mind, the ways in which it can be understood, and about the nature and aims of scientific medicine.

The controversy over the nature of mental disorder and the appropriateness of the "medical model" is not just an abstract theoretical debate: it has a bearing on very practical issues of appropriate treatment, as well as on psychiatric ethics and law. A major contention of this book is that these questions are ultimately philosophical in character: they can be resolved only if we abandon some widespread philosophical assumptions about the "mind" and the "body", and about what it means for medicine to be "scientific".

The "phenomenological" approach of the twentieth-century French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty is used to question these assumptions. His conception of human beings as "body-subjects" is argued to provide a more illuminating way of thinking about mental disorder and the ways in which it can be understood and treated. The conditions we conventionally call "mental disorders" are, it is argued, not a homogeneous group: the standard interpretation of the medical model fits some more readily than others. The core mental disorders, however, are best regarded as disturbed ways of being in the world, which cause unhappiness because of deviation from "human" rather than straightforwardly "biological" norms. That is, they are problems in how we experience the world and especially other people, rather than in physiological functioning - even though the nature of our experience cannot ultimately be separated from the ways in which our bodies function. This analysis is applied within the book both to issues in clinical treatment and to the special ethical and legal questions of psychiatry.

Written by a well known philosopher in an accessible and clear style, this book should be of interest to a wide range of readers, from psychiatrists to social workers, lawyers, ethicists, philosophers and anyone with an interest in mental health.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a valuable review of philosophical approaches to mental illness that is both clear and critical. The respectful approach to persons is increasingly important when our media presents stories of situations in which failures in our mental health system have led to tragedy."—Doody's, a 5 star review

"Matthews here presents a clear and readable exposition of the current philosophical debates and dilemmas within psychiatry...Matthews draws on real examples and concerns throughout, gained through close contact with clinicians, revealing a sound understanding of the applicability of his ideas."—Mental Health Today Digest

"A fascinating look at the subject of mental disorder in the context of phenomenology, Body-subjects and Disordered Minds makes a unique and indispensable contribution to philosophical literature."—Metapsychology

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Patricia E. Murphy, PhD (Rush University Medical Center)
Description: Clarity about mental illness and the whole person has important ethical and legal ramifications. This book considers mental disorders from a philosophical perspective supporting an understanding of persons that takes into account consciousness in and through an embodied relationship to the world.
Purpose: The author addresses the question of whether or not there is a distinction between bodily disorders with clear physiological symptoms and mental disorders for which symptoms such as abnormal beliefs and emotions don't always have an organic basis. The scientific approach of medicine focusing on failure of organs to function correctly can lead to a perceived dichotomy between the mind and the brain. As the author explains in describing human interactions, the answer to "Why you are smiling?" cannot be explained simply by biological mechanisms.
Audience: Society needs thinkers who step back and look at the larger question of what it means to be human in order to insure that interventions in the face of mental disorders is ethical and leads to the good of both individuals and society. This book is written for those who are interested in bringing this reflection to medicine whether they are clinicians or those who want to have a framework about the moral treatment of persons receiving psychiatric treatment.
Features: The author artfully weaves his way through philosophical approaches to the mind that reflects a dichotomy based on a desire to approach medicine scientifically. He points out the complexity of mental disorders, some of which are related to organic function and some which seem not to be. Further, the pain of mental illness can harm persons' relationships with society and the world in which they live. This is not necessarily true for physical illnesses.
Assessment: This is a valuable review of philosophical approaches to mental illness that is both clear and critical. The respectful approach to persons is increasingly important when our media presents stories of situations in which failures in our mental health system have led to tragedy.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Eric Matthews was born in Liverpool in 1936. He studied philosophy, both as an undergraduate and a postgraduate, at St John's College, Oxford, from 1957 to 1963, where he was taught by Paul Grice, Gilbert Ryle, and A.J. Ayer. He then taught philosophy for almost forty years at the University of Aberdeen, apart from visiting posts at the University of New Orleans and at the College of Wooster, Ohio, U.S.A. He has a longstanding interest in the philosophical and ethical problems arising from psychiatry: he is a member of the National Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Philosophy Special Interest Group and was a member of the Steering Committee of the International Network for Philosophy and Psychiatry. In 2002, he retired from a Personal Chair of Philosophy at Aberdeen, and is now Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Honorary Research Professor of Medical and Psychiatric Ethics at the University.

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Table of Contents

1. Introducing the problem
2. Illness and disease
3. 'Minds' and 'bodies'
4. Phenomenology and Merleau-Ponty
5. The body-subject and mental disorder
6. Mental disorder and choice
7. Mental disorder and legal resposibility
8. Treatment without consent

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