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In the News

Too Much Neuroscience? The Link Between Funding and Research

Recently the US National Institute of Mental Health, which funds much of American research into the effectiveness of treatments for mental disorders, announced a new director. So what? Well, there are hopes, expressed by John C. Markowitz (professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University) recently in the New York Times, that this appointment will bring with it a new focus on cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy and talking treatments, which have been underfunded in an overenthusiastic response to the promises of brain-based research.

While brain-based research can offer insights into mental disorders that have a clear brain-based cause, Markowitz points out that it is less helpful when looking at the cluster of symptoms for depression, such as low mood, suicidal thoughts, sleep, appetite and energy changes. It is foolish not to take a broader approach, especially when research has shown that individual therapy, sometimes alongside biomedical treatments, can make a real difference.

But what about people that neuroscience doesn’t help? He gives the example of a colleague who has shown through research that brief interpersonal therapy helps depressed mothers with young children without any other (biomedical) intervention. The research needs replicating, but clinical research funding has slowed to 10% of the total NIMH budget He suggests that patients cannot wait 10 or 20 years for the results that neuroscience promises when a lack of clinical research is limiting possibilities for developing the individual therapies.

There are links to the theory of self-fulfilling prophecy here, with research being shaped by funding; that which is best funded often developing at a faster pace, and therefore seeming more deserving of funding, and so on. Until maybe all we know is neuroscience.

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