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116 | Beyond Chemical Imbalance: How to Talk with Faith-based Clients about Psychiatric Medications

Psychiatry, Behavioral Medicine, and Collaborative Care, Thursday 9/14 8:45 – 10:00 AM, Workshop Tracks


Warren Kinghorn, M.D., Th.D.



Approved For CE

Approved For CME/CEU

Medical Doctors, Osteopathic Doctors, Physicians Assistants, Midwives, Nurses and Nurse Practitioners




Speaking about psychological struggles as chemical imbalances or as disorders of neurotransmitter systems is common in today’s culture, but this is a folk metaphor more than a scientific conclusion. Although individuals’ brains are involved when they struggle, mental health problems cannot be reduced to disorders of the brain or neural circuits, partly because psychological struggles often reflect challenges and difficulties in one’s external world. Furthermore, while describing mental illness as a chemical imbalance may decrease shame and self-blame, it may also increase pessimism about recovery, harm social connections, devalue the therapeutic alliance, hinder self-exploration, and reduce client engagement in therapy. In this workshop for psychologists, licensed mental health professionals, and medical professionals, a psychiatrist will discuss practical strategies for speaking with clients and their prescribers about medication in a way that avoids reductionism. The presenter will also explore how St. Thomas Aquinas’ image of the human as a wayfarer and his faith-based view of the emotions of the body-soul relationship offer a holistic way to understand both when medications are appropriate and evaluate their effects for faith-based clients. 

Learning Objectives

1. Describe the methods and conclusions of a recent systematic review (Moncrieff et al. 2022) showing a lack of consistent evidence for the serotonin hypothesis of depression.
2. List two reasons why mental disorders cannot be reduced to disorders of the brain or neural circuits.
3. Identify one psychological and social good and four psychological and social harms associated with describing mental illness as caused by biological dysfunction.
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