Mind, Brain and Psychological Practice

J. Landeira-Fernandez and Antônio Pedro de Mello Cruz

For a long time it has been known that there is no psychological activity independent of neural activity. One of the main consequences of these findings for the psychologist in general and clinical psychologist in particular is that all psychological practice is, in reality, those that are able to modify the functioning of this neural activity.

This position does not imply in a change in the practice of psychotherapy, as it is traditionally used. What changes is the way to face the problem, taking in account important biological factors as variables in mental activity. This position also does not reduce the psychological activity to purely biological mechanisms. The own nature of psychology hinders such reductionism. Such position, therefore, is not in disagreement with theories that supports that the human personality is a fruit of its social relations. This, in reality, is the proper essence of psychology. The error, however, is in ignoring the fact that social relations direct the formation of personality thanks to its impact in the development, organization and neural functioning of the individual. This position gives new life to the profession of mental health and fits his or her practice to the discoveries and current trends on how to consider human mental activity. It extends its horizons, which are already saturated with philosophical positions that attribute characteristics to the human mind and that currently result in a hindrance to the practice and performance of the clinical psychologist.

Today, the brain begins to be discovered and to be understood in a more systematic way, thanks to the technical advances and to the new interdisciplinary nature of the neurosciences. Amongst these discoveries it is the enormous importance of environment and social relations in the development, organization and functioning of the nervous system. The psychological practice, or any another social relation that has an impact on the subject´s mental activity, has the capacity to promote alterations in the neural activity of this individual. These alterations are associated to changes in the neural communication, promoting a kind of "synaptic re-education". In this way, psychologists as a whole, and the physicians in particular, should take in account all that neurosciences have been advancing in the beginning of this century.

Based on this interpretation, it is important that psychologists strive also for a good training in the biological area, mainly in relation to the nervous system, since it is not only the seat and origin of all mental activity, but also the object of its practical profession. The fact that the clinical psychologist has not been adequately prepared to deal with questions related with neural activity cannot serve as a justification (conscientious or unconscious) that a bolder preparation in this area is not important for its professional activity. The psychologist must awake to the necessity to incorporate in education the knowledge that is being developed by neurosciences and in special, by psychopharmacology. It is obvious that the better it ishis or her academic preparedness, the bigger will be his or her knowledge geared toward the possibilities of application.

In this way, we think that clinical psychologists besides being required to improve his or her academic learning in the biological field, should also bear the right to use adequately this type of knowledge, being able, for example to prescribe psychotropic drugs. But before psychologists conquest this right, our class must be convinced about the importance of biological variables in the determination of mental activity. Today, this possibility does not exist, thanks to a curriculum that emphasizes academic training for research (which, unfortunately ist not always used to advantage) and to a training, perhaps a little exaggerated, in philosophical concepts.

It is Interesting to note that in our country training in clinical work itself is quite restricted during the undergraduate years of psychology. This truly leads us to another polemical discussion that goes far above the aims our this article, namely: should psychology be be considered a basic science, very much so as physics, chemistry or biology, or an applied science, such as veterinary medicine, medical engineering or dentistry? If psychology really purports to be an applied science, we will need, without a doubt, to adjust its curriculum to the this need. In this direction, there is already a movement in the United States which demonstrates the desire of many psychologists to modify the psychology curriculum, incorporating disciplines which will allow professional in this area the necessary training to prescribe drugs. For example, the American Association of Psychology is gradually arriving to decisions that allow the development of curricular and legislative models which will be capable to justify the attainment of the psychologist´s right to prescribe.

Those who are against this idea should remember, however, that the right to prescribe drugs incorporates also the right not to prescribe them. In this manner, it is not our aim to make an apology of the use or not of psychoactive drugs in the treatment of mental dysfunctions or that the clinical psychologist should changed himself into a kind of psychiatrist who was able to avoid pursuing a medical degree. Our intention is actually to show to practical psychologists that what he or she does, as incorporeal it may seem, produces physical effect by means of the alteration of the functioning of the neural fabric. The acquisition of neurobiological knowledge is fundamental, so that psychologists could really understand in depth how thos interaction between brain and environment occurs, thus making possible the development of new psychotherapeutical techniques. The right to directly use this knowledge related with the development, organization and functioning of the nervous system, by prescribing neural-acting drugs, will be only a consequence of the strenghtening of its academic preparedness along the academic psychology course.

It is true that there are already systems that lead a more in-depth training of the clinical psychologist. For example, the American system, differently of the Brazilian one, qualifies clinical psychologist to only exert his functions after finishing a doctorate. In this occasion, he is subjected to a series of examinations imposed by his state psychological society, in order to verify his ability to be a clinicial. In this manner, the American system allows a better preparation and selection of the professional. In consequence, it forces the academic curriculum to be a stronger one. The objective of this presentation is not to try to answer whether this system should be adopted in Brazil. Our aim, instead, is just to convince the clinical psychologist that his practice has direct consequences on the nervous fabric through the same mechanisms that drugs act on the psychological realm. Thus, we are emphatic to repeat that the real aim of a psychology course is to offer also a good knowledge in all disciplines related to neurobiology.

It should be quite obvious that the decision to enrich the curriculum of psychology with the extended matrix of biological disciplinest is an extremely complex one and that it involves other interests which are not purely professional or academic. However, it will not be the first time that psychology will go to fight for rights that justify its existence as independent science. Those with conscience and professional devotion, whose objective is come back does not stop its personal interests and beliefs, but yes for the progress and development of its classroom, only are that they will know, today, to take balanced decisions so that horizontes of the practical thought and the psychological one can be extended in a next future.

The Authors