Medical Model Use in Psychology

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A term coined by psychiatrist R.D. Laing, in The Politics of the Family and Other Essays (1971), a medical model is a "set of procedures in which all doctors are trained."

The medical model's school of thought is that mental disorders are believed to be the product of physiological factors. Simply stated, the medical model treats mental disorders as physical diseases whereby medication is often used in treatment.

When it comes to mental illness, the medical model, which is more widely used by psychiatrists than psychologists, treats these disorders in the same way as a broken leg.

However, there are many schools of thought about the medical model in the psychiatry world. Supporters of the medical model usually consider symptoms to be telltale signs of the inner physical disorder and believe that if symptoms are connected, it can be characterized as a syndrome.

Medical Model Assumptions

  • The biological approach of the medical model focuses on genetics, neurotransmitters, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy etc. Psychopathology says that disorders have an organic or physical cause. The approach suggests that mental conditions are related to the brain's physical structure and functioning.
  • Symptoms' of mental illness, such as hallucinations, can be categorized as syndromes caused by the disease. These symptoms allow a psychiatrist to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

The Use of Medication in Treatment Based on the Medical Model

Based on the medical model, mental illness should be treated, in part, as a medical condition, typically through the use of prescription medications.

Medications for mental illness change brain chemistry. In most cases, these medications add or modify a chemical that is responsible for problems with mood, perception, anxiety, or other issues. In the correct dosage, medication can have a profoundly positive impact on functioning. 

The Brain Chemistry of Anxiety Disorders and Phobias

Studies have shown that those who suffer from anxiety disorders, including phobias, have a problem with the regulation of serotonin levels in their brains. Serotonin is a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters modulate the signals between neurons and other cells.

Serotonin acts in the brain and, among other things, moderates mood.

A serotonin level that is too high or too low can cause both depression and anxiety. Consequently, phobias are often treated with a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Normally serotonin is released from a nerve cell into the synaptic gap between cells. It is recognized by the second nerve cell, which then transmits a signal to the brain. The serotonin is then recaptured by the first nerve cell.

An SSRI prevents some of the serotonin from being reabsorbed. It stays in the synaptic gap in order to further stimulate the second nerve cell. SSRIs are not the only medications used in the treatment of phobias but are among the most effective.

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Article Sources

  • Laing, R.D. The Politics of the Family and Other Essays.1971.
  • McLeod, Saul, Simply Psychology, The Medical Model. 2014.