Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice

Translational neuroscience and psychiatry: A conceptual analysis

Journal Article


As rapidly developing research disciplines and enterprises, the translational sciences have made significant impact on research direction in medicine. Psychiatry has likewise been affected, and in this regard, the translational neurosciences have been the major drivers. This paper explores the conceptual underpinnings of this enterprise in relation to psychiatry. It shows that translation is used in a metaphorical sense in this context but that this can be misleading because of the resultant connotation that there is equivalence between neurobiological states and mental states. Furthermore, this equivalence is reinforced by the unidirectional flow or bottom up approach of the translational process.

Given that the epistemological basis to psychiatry is fundamentally different to that underlying medicine, questions are raised concerning the application of the translational neurosciences approach to mental symptoms and mental disorders. The hybrid structure of mental symptoms and mental disorders demands that attention is paid to the “semantic” as well as the neurobiological constituents. Neglect of the former would carry implications for the validity of research findings as well as have ethical consequences for treating patients. Translational neurosciences may have greater validity in those mental disorders and mental symptoms whose constitution and sense are carried by the neurobiological elements.

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