3.4 Biological approaches
Certain kinds of psychological disturbances may be seen as ‘malfunctions’ of the brain. If a psychological problem has an obvious biological explanation, then it may be possible to direct therapeutic approaches at this level. However, as we have seen, it is difficult to identify precise biological causes for complex psychological phenomena. Even if this were possible, it would not always be practicable to use treatments to change the underlying biological factors. Genetic ‘explanations’ provide the most obvious example of this problem. As we have seen, the genetic factors underlying complex patterns of behaviour are rarely simple, usually involving many different genes. Even if a single malfunctioning gene could be identified, the likelihood of successful ‘gene therapies’ remains highly theoretical and would be fraught with both ethical and practical difficulties.
The most common medical method of treating psychological problems is through biochemistry. Numerous pharmacological (drug) treatments are already in use for conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and ADHD. However, prescription of these kinds of treatments lies in the province of psychiatry, not psychology, because their safe use requires specialised medical knowledge and training. Nutritional treatments offer a possible alternative to drugs for correcting biochemical imbalances that contribute to psychological problems. It is easy to forget that what we consume can have powerful effects on brain function, both in the short-term (e.g. the way that coffee or sugary foods provide a temporary ‘lift’ in energy) and in the long term, because our diet provides the substances we need to fuel, maintain and repair our brain and body.