Introduction to Biological Therapies

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Introduction to Biological Therapies

Introduction to Biological Therapies

If a mental disorder has a biological cause (for example, chemical imbalance in the brain) it may be possible to treat it by changing the way the body functions.

Such methods are also known as physiological treatments or somatic treatments ('soma' means 'body').

Biological treatments interfere with, and change, the body's physiology (biological processes) and, because of this, they can be described as invasive treatments.

Biological treatments include drug therapies (chemotherapy), electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and psychosurgery (surgical procedures).

Introduction to Biological Therapies

Drug treatments are known as chemotherapy - using chemicals to change the way the brain or body works.

Drug treatments for mental disorders were first introduced in the 1950s - reducing by thousands the number of people permanently in hospitals.

Drugs that change the way a person thinks or behaves are called psychoactive drugs.

Drugs used to treat mental disorders - psychotherapeutic drugs - alter the chemical functioning of the brain by affecting the action of neurotransmitters.

Introduction to Biological Therapies

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit impulses across the microscopic gaps between nerve cells called synapses.

Changes in the brain's neurotransmitter systems lead to changes in moods, feelings, perception and behaviour.

Here's a reminder of how neurotransmitters work:

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A drug might be so similar to a neurotransmitter that it can imitate it and amplify its activity by moving into the receptor sites.

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Other drugs might block receptor sites so that the effects of a neurotransmitter are dampened down. Some neuroleptic (or 'antipsychotic') drugs, used to treat schizophrenia work in this way.

Other drugs work by slowing down the re-uptake of neurotransmitters so they hang around in synapses affecting receptor sites for longer. Antidepressant drugs called SSRI's work in this way (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors).

There are four main categories of medication, shown in the table below:

Anti-psychotic drugs (neuroleptics) Used to treat schizophrenia. These dampen down 'psychotic' symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, for example, chlorpromazine and clozapine.
Anti-depressants Used mainly for depression, sometimes used for panic disorder, some phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For example: tricyclic drugs, MAOI's and SSRI's (for example, Prozac).
Anti-anxiety drugs (anxiolytic drugs) Help reduce the disabling symptoms of anxiety disorders, for example, Valium.
Anti-manicdrugs Used to treat states of mania. Also used for 'bipolar disorder' ('manic-depression') involving extreme mood cycles from highs (mania) to deep lows (depression), for example, lithium.
Introduction to Biological Therapies

In the 1950s the anti-psychotic drug chlorpromazine heralded dramatic changes in the treatment of mental disorders.

Do you remember the names of some anxiety disorders?

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