Neuropsychiatry or Organic Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with mental disorders attributable to diseases of the nervous system.
It preceded the current disciplines of psychiatry and neurology, which had common training, however, psychiatry and neurology have subsequently split apart and are typically practiced separately. Nevertheless, neuropsychiatry has become a growing subspecialty of psychiatry and it is also closely related to the fields of neuropsychology and behavioural neurology.
The Case for the Rapprochement of Neurology and Psychiatry
Given the considerable overlap between these subspecialities, there has been a resurgence of interest and debate relating to neuropsychiatry in academia over the last decade. Most of this work argues for a rapprochement of neurology and psychiatry, forming a specialty above and beyond a subspecialty of psychiatry. For example, Professor Joseph B. Martin, former Dean of Harvard Medical School and a neurologist by training, has summarized the argument for reunion: “the separation of the two categories is arbitrary, often influenced by beliefs rather than proven scientific observations. And the fact that the brain and mind are one makes the separation artificial anyway.” These points and some of the other major arguments are detailed below.
Neurologists have focused objectively on organic nervous system pathology, especially of the brain, whereas psychiatrists have laid claim to illnesses of the mind. This antipodal distinction between brain and mind as two different entities has characterised many of the differences between the two specialties. However, it has been argued that this division is fictional; evidence from the last century of research has shown that our mental life has its roots in the brain. Brain and mind have been argued not to be discrete entities but just different ways of looking at the same system (Marr, 1982). It has been argued that embracing this mind/brain monism may be useful for several reasons. First, rejecting dualism implies that all mentation is biological, which provides a common research framework in which understanding and treatment of mental disorders can be advanced. Second, it mitigates widespread confusion about the legitimacy of mental illness by suggesting that all disorders should have a footprint in the brain.
In sum, a reason for the division between psychiatry and neurology was the distinction between mind or first-person experience and the brain. That this difference is taken to be artificial by proponents of mind/brain monism supports a merge between these specialties.
One of the reasons for the divide is that neurology traditionally looks at the causes of disorders from an “inside-the-skin” perspective (neuropathology, genetics) whereas psychiatry looks at “outside-the-skin” causation (personal, interpersonal, cultural). This dichotomy is argued not to be instructive and authors have argued that it is better conceptualized as two ends of a causal continuum. The benefits of this position are: firstly, understanding of aetiology will be enriched, in particular between brain and environment. One example is eating disorders, which have been found to have some neuropathology (Uher and Treasure, 2005) but also show increased incidence in rural Fijian school girls after exposure to television (Becker, 2004). Another example is schizophrenia, the risk for which may be considerably reduced in a healthy family environment (Tienari et al., 2004).
It is also argued that this augmented understanding of aetiology will lead to better remediation and rehabilitation strategies through an understanding of the different levels in the causal process where one can intervene. It may be that non-organic interventions, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), better attenuate disorders alone or in conjunction with drugs. Linden’s (2006) demonstration of how psychotherapy has neurobiological commonalities with pharmacotherapy is a pertinent example of this and is encouraging from a patient perspective as the potentiality for pernicious side effects is decreased while self-efficacy is increased.
In sum, the argument is that an understanding of the mental disorders must not only have a specific knowledge of brain constituents and genetics (inside-the-skin) but also the context (outside-the-skin) in which these parts operate (Koch and Laurent, 1999). Only by joining neurology and psychiatry, it is argued, can this nexus be used to reduce human suffering.
To further sketch psychiatry’s history shows a departure from structural neuropathology, relying more upon ideology (Sabshin, 1990). A good example of this is Tourette syndrome, which Ferenczi (1921), although never having seen a patient with Tourette syndrome, suggested was the symbolic expression of masturbation caused by sexual repression. However, starting with the efficacy of neuroleptic drugs in attenuating symptoms (Shapiro, Shapiro and Wayne, 1973) the syndrome has gained pathophysiological support (e.g. Singer, 1997) and is hypothesized to have a genetic basis too, based on its high inheritability (Robertson, 2000). This trend can be seen for many hitherto traditionally psychiatric disorders (see table) and is argued to support reuniting neurology and psychiatry because both are dealing with disorders of the same system.
Table: Linking Traditional Psychiatric Symptoms or Disorders to Brain Structures and Genetic Abnormalities.
|Psychiatric Symptoms||Psychodynamic Explanation||Neural Correlates||Source|
|Depression||Anger turned inward||Limbic-cortical dysregulation, monoamine imbalance||Mayberg (1997)|
|Bipolar Disorder (Mania)||Narcissistic||Prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, anterior cingulate, amygdala||Barrett et al. (2003), Vawter, Freed, & Kleinman (2000)|
|Schizophrenia||Narcissistic/escapism||NMDA receptor activation in the human prefrontal cortex||Ross et al. (2006)|
|Visual Hallucination||Projection, cold distant mother causing a weak ego||Retinogeniculocalcarine tract, ascending brainstem modulatory structures||Mocellin, Walterfang, Velakoulis, (2006)|
|Auditory Hallucination||Projection, cold distant mother causing a weak ego||Frontotemporal functional connectivity||Shergill et al., 2000|
|Obsessive Compulsive Disorder||Harsh parenting leading to love-hate conflict||Frontal-subcortical circuitry, right caudate activity||Saxena et al. (1998), Gamazo-Garran, Soutullo and Ortuno (2002)|
|Eating Disorder||Attempted control of internal anxiety||Atypical serotonin system, right frontal and temporal lobe dysfunction, changes to mesolimbic dopamine pathways||Kaye et al. (2005), Uher and Treasure (2005), Olsen (2011), Slochower (1987)|
This table is in not exhaustive but provides some neurological bases to psychiatric symptoms.
Improved Patient Care
Further, it is argued that this nexus will allow a more refined nosology of mental illness to emerge thus helping to improve remediation and rehabilitation strategies beyond current ones that lump together ranges of symptoms. However, it cuts both ways: traditionally neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, are being recognized for their high incidence of traditionally psychiatric symptoms, like psychosis and depression (Lerner and Whitehouse, 2002). These symptoms, which are largely ignored in neurology, can be addressed by neuropsychiatry and lead to improved patient care. In sum, it is argued that patients from both traditional psychiatry and neurology departments will see their care improved following a reuniting of the specialties.
Better Management Model
Schiffer et al. (2004) argue that there are good management and financial reasons for rapprochement.
Behavioural Neurology & Neuropsychiatry fellowships are accredited by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS; http://www.ucns.org), in a manner analogous to the accreditation of psychiatry and neurology residencies in the United States by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).
The American Neuropsychiatric Association (ANPA) was established in 1988 and is the American medical subspecialty society for neuropsychiatrists. ANPA holds an annual meeting and offers other forums for education and professional networking amongst subspecialists in behavioural neurology & neuropsychiatry as well as clinicians, scientists, and educators in related fields. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. publishes the peer-reviewed Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, which is the official journal of ANPA.
The International Neuropsychiatric Association was established in 1996. INA holds congresses biennially in countries around the world and partners with regional neuropsychiatric associations around the world to support regional neuropsychiatric conferences and to facilitate the development of neuropsychiatry in the countries/regions where those conferences are held.
The British NeuroPsychiatry Association (BNPA) was founded in 1987 and is the leading academic and professional body for medical practitioners and professionals allied to medicine in the UK working at the interface of the clinical and cognitive neurosciences and psychiatry.
Recently, a new non-profit professional society named Neuropsychiatric Forum (NPF) was founded. NPF aims to support effective communication and interdisciplinary collaboration, develop education schemes and research projects, organise neuropsychiatric conferences and seminars.