Medical Model Use in Psychology

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

The medical model's school of thought is that mental disorders are believed to be the product of physiological factors. The medical model, which is more widely used by psychiatrists than psychologists, treats mental disorders as physical diseases whereby medication is often used in treatment.

Supporters of the medical model usually consider symptoms to be telltale signs of the inner physical disorder. They 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, and so on. 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 disease. These symptoms allow a psychiatrist to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

The Use of Medication in Treatment

Based on the medical model, mental illness should be treated, in part, as a medical condition. This treatment is typically 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.

Brain Chemistry of Anxiety Disorders

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 processes, 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 they are among the most effective.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Laing RD. The Politics of the Family and Other Essays. Routledge; 2018.

  2. Deacon BJ. The biomedical model of mental disorder: A critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research. Clin Psychol Rev. 2013;33(7):846-61. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.007

  3. Bystritsky A, Khalsa SS, Cameron ME, Schiffman J. Current diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. P T. 2013;38(1):30-57.

Additional Reading
  • McLeod S. Simply Psychology: The Medical Model. 2014.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.