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Philosophical approach to mental health treatments

Collaboration has led to improved diagnoses of, and better treatment for, disorders such as schizophrenia and autism

Work in connecting philosophical theories with therapeutic practice is playing a key role in assisting medical practitioners who deal with mental health issues.

UOW philosophers Professor Daniel D. Hutto and Professor Shaun Gallagher brought theory into conversation with clinical practice through their work in The Marie Curie Disorders and Coherence of the Embodied Self (DISCOS) Training Network
(2007-2011).

DISCOS was a consortium of nine European Centres of Excellence in neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and psychiatry. The overall collaboration led to improved diagnoses of, and better treatment for, mental disorders.

The addition of philosophical theory and practice, led by the UOW philosophers, to the DISCOS network directly influenced a number of clinical outcomes.

For example, their work contributed to the revision of the Examination of the Anomalous Self-Experience (EASE) diagnostic tool for early detection and treatment of schizophrenia.

EASE is a questionnaire used in phenomenological interviews. According to Professor Hutto, in its original format, EASE focused on individual self-experience but it under-appreciated and under-emphasised intersubjective aspects — such as difficulties in interpersonal rapport, communication, and emotional and cognitive reactions to others.

Revisions were made in both content and method. Questions were added to focus on interpersonal dimensions, and both interviewees and interviewers were filmed, making it possible to analyse interactions between them. The research had a direct influence on noticing and correcting these limitations.

In a second application, Gallagher and Hutto’s insights into embodied, enactive and narrative social cognition, influenced clinicians in the UK’s Coventry and Warwickshire Early Intervention team to modify their approach to early psychotic illness.

The research helped them to develop narrative-based strategies that decreased the occurrence of schizophrenic episodes in some patients. It enabled them to better understand the importance of the role of the social environment in the early stages of psychosis.

The philosophers’ research also contributed to the formulation of new methodological guidelines for the clinical evaluation of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), developed at one of Europe’s largest children’s hospitals, the Bambino Gesú Ospedale Pediatrico, Rome. 

Researchers and clinicians, using Gallagher and Hutto’s innovative view of embodied intersubjective understanding, began to focus on early signs of sensorimotor problems and problems with pointing and gesture in children with ASD, instead of relying on standard ‘theory of mind’ measures.

Work in connecting these philosophical theories with therapeutic practice continues at UOW through the Narrative Practices in Therapy Initiative, which brings together researchers in philosophy and other disciplines to address questions about the nature of narrative practices and how they feature in therapy and medicine.


Partner organisations

Dulwich Centre (South Australia)
European DISCOS Consortium
Bambino Gesú Ospedale Pediatrico, Rome
Coventry & Warwickshire Early Intervention team, UK

UOW participants

Prof. Daniel D. Hutto, Prof. Shaun Gallagher

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