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History & Philosophy of Psychiatry (PSYT90088)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 6.25Online

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codePSYT90088
May - Online
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Philosophical and ethical issues pervade psychiatric thinking and everyday practice, as well as mental health policy. Key questions concern:

  • the nature of mental health and illness, which in turn leads to questions about the nature of mind, brain and their connections (this takes in philosophy of mind and philosophical approaches to descriptive psychopathology)
  • the causation, prevention and treatment of mental illness - types of psychological and neurobiological forms of thinking about these; issues raised by the rapid developments in neuroscience, including the emergence of neuroethics
  • the ethics of psychiatric work, including confidentiality and involuntary treatment; codes of ethics
  • the ethics of psychiatric care – resource allocation, mental health policy
  • the ethics of psychiatric relations with business, notably the pharmaceutical industry
  • the ethics of international mental health and transcultural psychiatric work in an era of globalisation
  • psychiatry and science: is psychiatry a form of science? And, if so, in what ways, is psychiatry like other sciences, in what ways different?

The unit aims to provide an overview of this field, oriented particularly to the needs of psychiatrists- in-training, undertaking the training programme of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), but the content will be relevant and of interest to non-trainee and non-medical participants involved in the mental health sector. The subject title includes the word ‘history’ as, wherever possible, the content will be taught with an historical emphasis, using case studies from the history of psychiatry (as well as from the present) to complement the more philosophical teaching.

A strong theme in the course will be the many implications of neuroscience, including social neuroscience, for psychiatry, including implications for concepts of self and human identity, for psychological enhancement, for surveillance and ‘mind-reading’ and for prediction and management of socially undesired traits. An emerging issue is the potential use of digital media and technologies (the web, apps), employing social neuroscience techniques in psychiatric care, eg, programs that assess facial movement and voice features to diagnose depression. The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ will be discussed as will some attempted integrations of psychological and neurobiological ways of thinking, such as neuropsychoanalysis.

An important topic will be the ethical and effective communication of psychiatric science to patients and to the general community.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  • Identify philosophical questions relevant to a diverse range of psychiatric scenarios, i.e. they will be able to see the relevance of philosophical inquiry and concepts to those scenarios.
  • Formulate questions and issues in a philosophical way, i.e. they will be able to mobilise some core concepts from the course to begin their own inquiry into those scenarios
  • Effectively locate resources relevant to philosophical thinking about a range of psychiatric scenarios, i.e. relevant people (philosophers, ethicists, social scientists), or publications and other scholarly media.

Generic skills

On successful completion of the unit the student will have acquired the capacity to:

1. Describe basic concepts of main present-day theories of mind/brain relations
2. Demonstrate basic knowledge of the field of descriptive psychopathology and its history, including its linkages to various schools of philosophy and psychology, such as faculty psychology, associationism, and cognitive neuroscience
3. Discuss philosophical concepts of value and ethics and their relevance to aspects of psychiatry, including clinical work, mental health services and policy and communication with the general community
4. Demonstrate knowledge of the potential implications of neuroscience for psychiatry, including ideas about what – if anything – is philosophically different, or challenging, about current developments
5. Discuss basic concepts about the nature of science and how such concepts apply to the field of psychiatry.

Last updated: 20 June 2019