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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 52 (2010) 7, 455 - 461

Short report

Does psychotherapy alter the brain? A non-reductionist neurophilosophical perspective

J. Vandenberghe, L. Van Oudenhove, S.E. Cuypers


background Psychiatry and ‘philosophy of mind’ are both concerned with the study of the relationship between body/brain (‘physical’ domain) and mind (‘mental’ domain), but often there is little interaction between both disciplines. In contemporary psychiatry, neurobiological research predominates, and it is often assumed that the results of this type of research are only compatible with reductionist physicalist positions in the ‘philosophy of mind’, rendering further philosophical reflection obsolete.
To demonstrate the continuing relevance of the ‘philosophy of mind’ for the self-image of modern psychiatry as a clinical and scientific discipline.
We illustrate this view by investigating whether a non-reductionist physicalist position, which postulates that the ‘mental’ supervenes on the ‘physical’ without being reducible to it, is compatible with the results of research on alterations in the brain during psychotherapy.
A non-reductionist physicalist position is compatible with recent functional brain imaging research, since the latter shows that psychiatric disorders (disorders of the ‘mind’) are associated with functional neurophysiological changes (alterations in the brain) that are influenced in different ways by pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.
Modern neurobiological research in psychiatry is not only compatible with reductionist physicalist positions in the ‘philosophy of mind’, as is often assumed, but also with a non-reductionist physicalist position in which the ‘mental’ is granted greater autonomy vis-à-vis the physical.

keywords neurobiology, philosophy, psychotherapy