Biomedical Treatments: Crash Course Psychology #36

Biomedical Treatments: Crash Course Psychology #36

If you saw our last lesson on psychotherapy
you might be wondering: What happened to Bernice? Has she found a way to manage her depression?
Is she still wracked with anxiety? Well it’s really nice of you to ask. And I’ll
tell her you said, “hi.” But for our purposes as students of psychology, the bigger question
arising from Bernice’s case is “has psychotherapy helped?” and just as important, “how can we
tell?” Well believe it or not, one of the main ways
experts use is to simply ask the client, and see how they say they’re doing. Is Bernice out of bed, and living her life?
Did she make it through mid-terms without spiraling into a crisis? And did she take that
plane trip to Baja to party with her girls? As a clinician, that would all be useful to
know, right? But the key is that we want to ask these questions in a scientifically rigorous
manner, so that we really know a treatment works, rather than just extrapolating from
individual cases. And there’s also a whole other category of
treatment that’s pretty different from the talking and listening that goes on in psychotherapy. These are as much medical intervention as
they are psychological science; the biomedical treatments. These can be as common-place as
medications like Zoloft or Lithium, or a bit more unusual and invasive like magnetic stimulation,
neural implants, or even electroshock therapy. And YES, it’s still a thing. Healing a troublesome mind isn’t like healing
a broken arm. So one of the challenges that psychologists face is simply knowing whether
they’re doing their job, and doing it well. The methods psychologists use to assess how
effective treatments are mostly involve client and clinician perceptions along with outcome
research. Client perceptions are just what they sound like, you see a therapist, and
someone asks you how you feel after your treatment. It varies by treatment, but client perception
tends to be pretty rosy. One study found that 89% of folks said that they were at least
“fairly well satisfied” with their treatment. But of course, perceptions are inherently
subjective, and some believe that the therapeutic relationship lends itself to a positive bias
in client reviews. Basically, if you’re sticking to your treatment, you probably like your
therapist. Clinician perspectives can be similarly skewed,
not only in terms of a self-serving bias, but also because they may not be around to
see a client’s future relapses or setbacks in mental health. A patient could see ten
therapists over time, feel better at the end of each treatment, but keep struggling over
the long term, even though each therapist thought the treatment was a success. So, can we objectively measure how well
psychotherapy works? Well, we have treatment outcome research, a way of systematically measuring
which therapies work best for which problems. And the gold standard of treatment outcome
research is the randomized clinical trial, or RCT. If you will remember your research methods,
you’ll know that RCTs generally require randomly selected and assigned participants, a control
group, and at least one experimental group that receives the treatment. This design accounts
for individual differences between people and other extraneous factors, so that we know
that if people in the experimental group get better and people in the control group don’t, it was truly the therapeutic intervention that made the difference. And once enough researchers have run their
own RCTs, you can gather data via meta analysis, measuring results across multiple trials to
see basically whether a treatment works, and how well it does, across a variety of settings. Two important terms you should know here are
effectiveness and efficacy. Effectiveness is whether or not a given therapy works in
a “real-world setting,” whereas efficacy is whether a therapy works better than some other,
comparable intervention, or a control. Both terms matter, and you’ll wanna get them straight,
if you’re tryin’ to parse the research literature. Dozens of studies have confirmed that psychotherapy
is both effective and efficacious. While controls, usually people who don’t get any therapy,
often do get better on their own, those in psychotherapy usually improve faster, and
with a significantly lower risk of relapse. However, and try not to look too shocked when
I tell you this, there is a lot of argument about which therapies work best. In some cases, like phobias, there are clear
winners, behavior therapy for instance. In others, like major depressive disorder, there
are cognitive, behavioral and psychodynamic interventions that have all been successful
in RCTs. And while a lot of psychologists seem to get a kick out of arguing about which
therapies are better than others, there do seem to be some common factors that unite
the more effective ones. A big one is simply instilling hope, helping
demoralized clients regain hope that things can, and will get better. There is also the
value of getting a new perspective, learning that there is a plausible explanation for
your troubles, and finding a new way of looking at yourself, the world around you, and what
your future might look like. And across the board, any good therapist provides genuine
empathy within a trusting, caring relationship. They seek to listen, and understand and not
judge, and offer clear and positive communication. But psychotherapy, or talking it out, is just
one way to treat psychological disorders. Quite often, biomedical therapies are an option,
sometimes for the more severe disorders, but in many cases, in combination with psychotherapy.
Biomedical therapies aim to physiologically change the brain’s electrochemical state with
psychotropic drugs, magnetic impulses, or even electrical currents and surgery. As you
might expect, pharmacotherapy is by far the most widely used, that’s the one where you
just take drugs. Psychotropic drugs are just any pharmaceutical that affects your mental
state, the most commonly used ones fall into four major categories; antipsychotics, anxiolytics,
antidepressants, and mood stabilizers, each aimed at a specific family of problems. Antipsychotics are used to treat schizophrenia
and other types of severe thought disorders. Most of these medications alter the effects
of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain by blocking its receptor sites, and blocking
its uptake. This is based on the assumption that an overactive dopamine system contributes
to schizophrenia, but, like many psychotropic drugs, antipsychotics come with nasty side
effects. Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety meds, usually
work by depressing activity in the central nervous system, much like a stiff drink might.
For this reason, and others, it can be super dangerous to mix certain anxiety meds with
booze. Also, letting your nerves mellow out can feel so good that patients may risk becoming
addicted to some anxiolytics. Antidepressants are used to treat depression,
as you might expect, but also a number of anxiety disorders. Each type is thought to
work a bit differently, mainly by altering the availability of various neurotransmitters,
like serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, which in turn appears to help with mood and
anxiety problems. Some of the most common are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors,
or SSRIs, like Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac, which partially block the normal re-uptake
of serotonin. This makes it more available to the synapses, which, hypothetically at
least, allows its mood-enhancing effects to kick in. Current research suggests that the
use of antidepressant medication is most effective when combined with psychotherapy, which makes
a lot of sense, and the same goes for a number of other psychological disorders. It’s worth pointing out here that some meta-analyses
suggest that antidepressants aren’t any more effective than psychotherapy when symptoms
are mild to moderate. One meta analysis that riled people up in recent years even suggested
that antidepressants are no better than a placebo in those cases. So psychotropic drugs
can help, but sometimes you also need to start exploring the root causes of your issues and
reevaluate how you deal with them, which is what psychotherapy is perfect for. Bernice, for example, probably would have
benefited from both talk therapy and a dose of anxiolytic or antidepressant meds. The last big psychotropic drug group is the
mood-stabilizers. They can be extremely effective in smoothing out the highs and lows of bipolar
disorder. Simple salts of Lithium were the first of these drugs used, and they remain
in widespread use today. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, who we talked about a few weeks ago
has said that Lithium “prevents my disastrous highs, diminishes my depressions, gentles
me out, keeps me from ruining my career and relationships, keeps me out of a hospital,
and alive.” And while drugs are the most popular biomedical
treatment, they aren’t the only kind. For one, there’s electro-shock therapy. Now, hear
me out, this does carry a long history of negative connotations, like of people being
strapped down and shocked into mental oblivion, but the technology has made a comeback, and
can actually be quite effective in treating severe, treatment-resistant depression. It’s
properly called electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, and it involves sending a brief electrical
current through the brain of an anesthetized patient. This excites the neurons, causing
them to fire rapidly, until the patient goes through a small, controlled seizure that lasts
about two minutes. And we’re not exactly sure why this helps to relieve negative symptoms, but
there are several theories that are being pursued. One suggests that the resulting seizure beneficially
alters neurotransmitter activity in areas of the brain associated with moods and emotions,
effectively jumpstarting a severely depressed brain. Another theory suggests that these
electrical impulses modify stress hormone activity in the brain, which we know could
play a role in sleep, energy, appetite, and mood. ECT may also re-activate previously
dormant or suppressed neurons, or possibly stimulate the growth of new ones in key brain regions,
helping the brain regain some level of lost functioning. There are a couple of other brain-stimulation
treatments, too, that are more gentle. One is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation,
rTMS, which involves the painless application of repeated electromagnetic pulses. Another,
deep-brain stimulation, DBS, is more invasive, and calls for surgically implanting a kind
of “brain pacemaker” that sends out electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain. Despite
all the new research and often positive results around rTMS and DBS, we’re still sorting out
how these treatments work to heal the brain and mind, but they’re hypothesized to jump-start the
neural circuitry in a depressed brain, similarly to ECT. So you’ll notice that all these options come
with certain risks, and really no treatment is entirely risk free, perhaps not even psychotherapy.
But we should also note that some of the less severe manifestations of psychological disorders
may be improved with pretty simple lifestyle changes. Thirty to sixty minutes of daily
aerobic exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant medications in research
on mild depression. Just remember those words; “daily” and “aerobic.” Adequate sleep, social
interaction, and good nutrition also all play a part in managing moods. In other words,
general healthy living helps. There’s an Old English proverb that says “different sores
have different salves” and the same is true here. What works for one person may not work
for another, and sometimes a few different kinds of intervention might be needed all
at once. Today you learned how client and clinician
perceptions, outcome research, and meta-analytic reviews work together to determine the efficacy
and effectiveness of psychological treatments. You also learned how biomedical therapies
work, including the four major families of drug therapies, along with electro-convulsive
therapy, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, and deep brain stimulation. And
also how lifestyle changes and general healthy living can improve mental health. Thanks for watching, especially to all our
Subbable subscribers who make Crash Course available to not just themselves but also
to all of all people. To find out how you can become a supporter just go to This episode was written by Kathleen Yale,
edited by Blake de Pastino, and our consultant is Dr. Ranjit Bhagwat. Our director and editor
is Nicholas Jenkins, the script supervisor and sound designer is Michael Aranda, and
the graphics team is Thought Cafe.

42 Replies to “Biomedical Treatments: Crash Course Psychology #36”

  1. Hi friends! I don't understand too much science, but I Was under the impression that after childhood you couldn't grow/make new neurons, but Hank just said you could. Help!

  2. "…no better than a placebo…" The talk about Placebo is largely misunderstood and misguided. Having a placebo-effect means, by definition, a guinea-pig being cured with "fake chemotherapy".
    Emphasis on the word "cured"!
    Shouldn´t the aim of any kinda therapy be curing people, NOT getting results by drugs!?

  3. I've learned that "talking it out" makes my psychosis even worse because the voices get outraged and start becoming very talkative and more negative.

  4. 6:31 you put the antipsycbhotic clozaril as an ssri in your synaptic animation, probably just a mistake but just fyi

  5. Awww…the way the kitty pets Bernice when she's sad is so heartbreaking. As someone who went through therapy (that didn't work at all–I think it was the wrong kind) for depression, anxiety and PTSD, and ended up just SOBBING every time I talked about my problems, this really hits home. I got my current kitty around the same time as this, too.

    EDIT: Also, is the coloured bar next to Bernice showing her new emotion every time she sees another therapist a Sims 4 reference? Gotcha! 🙂

  6. I'm not sure if this has been said because I am too lazy to scour the comments but I would like to point out that Depakote generic is actually Divalproex sodium and Valproic acid is a closly related drug called Depakene.

  7. I'm on one antipsychotic, an anxiolytic, an antidepressant, and a mood stabilizer. About 15 minutes after I take my night dose (all of them; my morning dose is only the anxiolytic and antidepressant), I get very very dizzy, giggly, and "in a fog". I get very sleepy, and if I shift my dosage time, I can have nasty side effects. Gotta love neuroatypicality

  8. Exercise and eating well can help you manage depression but unfortunately, deppression makes it nearly impossible for me to get up and be active and makes my appetite magically dissappear

  9. ECT is interesting …at times when I wake up from my grand mal seizures, I feel better. Like my brain was very worn out and just received a jump start. Maybe the electrical activity inside can actually heal in a way

  10. I know Hank doesn't write the scripts but I've been binging on these older episodes lately for my New Years Resolution and this guy is just so good at speaking well

  11. My laptop's fan blew out half way through this video but I figured I'd finish it on my phone and then put out that fire so…….thanks for the great work, Team.

  12. is it not dangerous to zip anyone's brain with electrisy? I mean really in 2018. Who would even consider such a thing? You would think that by now. We humans would come up with anything better. I know I'm coming acrossed as shocked by this. Most of the time I agree with most everything you talk about. I am always entertained by what you talk about. Just posing a question. I'm not going to stop watching. But this subject reminded me of those old black n white movies my parents would watch. They were scary.

  13. I think I’ve relapsed but my family dosen’t have the money to treat my horrid anxiety anymore.

    Ah, well. Wouldn’t want to be a drain.

  14. I'm genuinely impressed of your ability to pronounce every single word you said perfectly and also keep up the speed. My mouth paralysis by just listening to you ??? you sure make the video more fun to watch ????????????

  15. I've had anxiety and depression pretty much for my whole life (I'm 21) and about a year and a half ago I saw a doctor who actually took me seriously and started me on a very tiny dose of zoloft. My parents noticed some pretty positive changes after about a month (one way of evaluating a treatment!) but it didn't last, and I went to a psychiatrist who tried lexapro, which had the same story and didn't last long. About 7 months ago, I started seeing a fantastic psychiatrist at my university who got me to take a genetic screening test to see how I metabolized certain drugs and it turns out ssri's don't work for me, so I tried an snri (which gave me heart issues) and finally anafranil, which has been a literal lifesaver and helps long term. I've been seeing a CBT therapist too for the past academic year and discovered I had OCD too, which honestly I probably should have noticed sooner, and the combination this semester has meant that I'm making decent grades in my classes and I didn't have to get a note from the dean for accommodations, plus I haven't been sick since (I swear it's related).

  16. Thank you for this enlightening series- but your discussion of ECT was quite problematic! I understand the series employs humor to explore delicate topics, but in the case of ECT, you missed the mark. Most people are quite familiar with the old tropes of shocks and straps, and the video reinforces these- especially by first using the outdated name of electroshock therapy, and then displaying a terrorizing cartoon.
    While 'infotainment' is a high-wire act, I would never show this video to any friend or person who may require ECT in future.

  17. In reflection of therapies where you see a psychologist to be your Dr. Sigmund Freud mentor with all of the risks and bad things that comes with the labels, I say this with all sincerity as an unapologetic Christian, if you want to regularly meet with friends who can be friendly in order to deal with your problems, then go to church. It won't cost you an arm and a leg, you don't have to spend thousands of dollars on a motivational speaker for a weekend, you don't have to tell the police of your criminal activities (in fact, don't care about the past, care about your wonderful future in heaven), and all that is required is your weekly attendance and study of the Bible and you will have friends.

  18. 9:50 I'm not sure about Facebook counting like real "social interaction". I guess at least there's self awareness with the "person to person is better" label.

  19. A psychiatrist helps a person with mental problem along with lifestyle change. One is dependent on the other. I was suffering from depression, and my psychiatrist has helped me to get it over. I am good now.

  20. I don't agree with medicating everybody. Everyones body reacts differently to pills and even therapy. Some people are allergic to pills like me the side effects include a locked jaw, extreme depression or obsessively crying or having trouble sleeping.

    Sometimes you go through periods were you improve and then suddenely your back to feeling slowed down or hopeless again. I recommend natural remedies, lots of water and a healthy diet that doesnt include candy, excessive coffee or soda. Tea for day and night time, plus vitamins helps me personally its better then a pill that just makes me more anxious.

    Never over due it and stay in a routine and never sleep at the wrong time.

    Over sleeping and under sleeping can have a huge effect on anxiety as well..not everyone needs to be medicated if they just have anxiety.

    I also disagree with the clingy part not everyone is like this some people are distant and fearful of new relationships or strangers when they just have anxiety. And others are more co dependent but its important to understand the difference so you don't misdiagnose somebody and give them the wrong pills. Pain pill management is an important type of treatment too some people need motivation and reminders to take their meds right.

    When really they just talk to themselves and have trauma, which falls under ptsd, which stems from anxiety and panic attacks and bad memories. Giving people like this pills is not always helpful. If you know it makes you cranky tell your doctor so they can take you off it.

  21. You guys really have to clarify the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist… Most of your themes on me tal il est is psychiatry (specially this vid) yet you keep mentioning psychologists instead of psychiatrists

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