Doing the latter kinds of research is surely important, and allows researchers to publish in a range of primarily psychiatric journals with high impact factors. But experimental psychopathology was getting unnecessarily marginalized – especially because many Psychology Departments were being seduced by the hype of psychiatry, medically-relevant research, genetics, and the high impact value of research that could be published in medically-related journals.
Interestingly, last week I was a discussant in a symposium about perseverative psychopathologies (pathological worrying and depressive rumination) at the Annual Conference of the British Association of Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). I ended up making two particular points:
(1) That it was so nice to see four papers that were looking specifically at the mechanisms of perseverative thought – what were the processes that led someone to begin a worry bout, perseverate that bout, feel increased distress through that bout, and then end it without feeling better? My point was that if you could understand the mechanisms that underlay a single bout of worrying, you would probably understand everything you needed to know in order to begin helping someone who was a pathological worrier. This is not something that I could easily believe that either genetic or neuropsychological approaches would have much to say about in the first instance.
(2) Sadly, those approaches to mental health research that have stayed outside the medical approach have over the last 15-20 years themselves become insular. Not that they don’t have journals to publish in – they have many of them. What is so depressing is that they have ended up creating their own incestuous and confused approach to mental health research. I have to admit that I am not a clinical psychologist – I am an experimental psychologist who for many years now has enjoyed using the various research skills I was trained with to study psychopathology. But I am always dismayed by the fact that clinical researchers continually attempt to re-invent wheels very badly. Much of the information we need to understand how mental health problems develop, are maintained, and can be treated is already there in the core psychological literature – and is entirely ignored by clinical psychology researchers who are happy to create idiosyncratic clinically-experienced based models of psychopathology that would take your average psychologist many decades to comprehend. This incestuous approach is compounded by the fact that clinical psychology journals continue to restrict their scope in ways that mean that clinical psychology researchers will only ever get exposure to the imperfect and insular research perpetuated by these journals.
And as a consequence, experimental psychopathology gets squeezed. But one of the uplifting aspects of our experience of creating and publishing an Experimental Psychopathology journal is that experimental psychopathology is clearly appreciated as an approach to researching mental health problems in a number of countries, especially European countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, and also countries like Australia and Canada. I would hope that we can push forward and convince researchers that experimental psychopathology is a highly valuable methodology for understanding mental health problems in a way which elaborates underlying psychological and cognitive mechanisms, which utilizes core psychological knowledge and which has direct relevance to treatment.
But sadly, we have to create the journals in which to publish this research, we have to make it clear that clinical psychology research is not just about medicine, we have to explain that understanding mental health problems will require us to understand the moment-to-moment processes that operate during psychopathology (and not just the genetics or neuroscience of psychopathology), and we have to convince universities that good mental health research is not simply stuff that is medical, generated by large research consortiums with privileged access to databases or client groups, or is restricted to expensive neuroscience procedures that simply light up bits of brain. We also have to convince a rather large group of clinical psychology researchers that their discipline will neither progress academically nor make inroads into the tight grip that psychiatry has over mental health without them making good use of an existing and well researched core psychology literature.