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Exploring anxiety
Exploring anxiety

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The concepts of ‘holism’ and ‘reductionism’

A ‘biopsychosocial perspective’ is a form of ‘holism'. This approach examines the three interdependent factors, biological, psychological and social, in devising explanations and possible interventions in mental health. From this perspective, all three factors are equally valid as objects of study.

The term ‘reductionism' refers to a process of trying to explain events by focusing on only one component of a complex whole. So, in explaining behaviour, a study of biology to the exclusion of psychology and social context would be said to be reductionist. Similarly, to explain psychology simply in terms of social context, whilst ignoring biology, would also exemplify reductionism in this sense.

Another shade of meaning of reductionism is in seeking explanations at a smaller scale. An example of this would be searching for an explanation of mental, behavioural and social events in terms of activity of regions of the brain. To take such reductionism still further, activity of the different areas of the brain would then be explained in terms of the chemicals that make up the brain (neurochemicals), and the performance of these neurochemicals might then be explained in terms of their component parts.

The biomedical model exemplifies reductionism in both of these senses. An exclusive focus upon social context to the exclusion of biology and psychology illustrates reductionism in only the first sense of the term.