The Neuroplastic Narrative in the classroom

This report has been published by the Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network. It begins:

“The following is a report of a UK-based student mental health nurse discussion group. … It was part of the work of a final-year university module called Nursing Care: Mental Health, which includes exploring critical perspectives about mental health services …

Our discussion was centred on a new piece of (open access) work [‘Introducing the Neuroplastic Narrative: A non-pathologizing biological foundation for trauma-informed and adverse childhood experience aware approaches’] by author Haley Peckham …

Overall impression: Peckham’s paper contained many elements with which we feel a strong affinity. The piece seems to contain plausible and well-researched explanations for the lived experience of people we have already met and worked with in mental health services. In discussion, some questions about it and its implications grew.

Firstly, having just had some classes in which themes about reductionism had been explored, we were very impressed at the accessibility of the first sections of the paper which readably deal with complex and technical ways in which life experiences become part of biology. Far from biology (genes, neurology) being just determining parts of our experience, Peckham demonstrates many ways in which it is something that is readily altered by what happens to us and what we do, from before birth and throughout the lifespan. Students noticed that this has a strange effect on our mental health nursing connection with biology, which is stripped of its capacity to be an adequate causal explanation for distress/mental health problems yet simultaneously reinstated as a key field for understanding the way people experience distress, the patterns and responses we commonly encounter and also something that could be part of helping someone recover. This feature of the paper was really helpful: we have talked at length in our class about the desire to be biopsychosocial and it may be tempting for mental health nurses to think that ‘there has been too much emphasis on the bio bit’ and so ‘we need to add back the psycho and the social, for balance’. However, with Peckham’s work comes a thought that perhaps the ‘bio’ that is given as an explanation in mental health services (i.e. mental illness having probable genetic causes, or chemical imbalances leading to illness) is not over-emphasised but actually plain misleading, and the body is as missing from commonly given psychiatric explanations as any other part of biopsychosocial! Helpful as this was, it also led to one of the key questions we had about the paper (which will be explored later) …”

You can read more from here.

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