The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The medical model of mental illness is flawed

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/20/2015 Category: Health
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,062 times Debate No: 70404
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




This debate will be four rounds. Round one will be acceptance and a statement of my claim only. Round two will be argument and definitions(if needed). Round three rebuttal and round four conclusion statements with no new argument.

My claim is that while emotional and/or mental troubles are very real the medical model of mental illness is flawed as there is not sufficient research or data to prove that mental illnesses are mainly or exclusively biological in nature.

Good Luck!! I look forward to the discussion.


I look forward to this debate! I will use my first round to ask a couple questions for clarification purposes. First, when you say that the model for treating mental illness is flawed, which parts exactly do you find objectionable? Second, what prevalence do you see in the biological treatment of mental illness? Third, what do you suggest as an alternative approach to treating mental illness? I look forward to your response!
Debate Round No. 1


The medical model holds that mental illness is a psychiatric disease with a physical (e.g., neurological, anatomical) explanations that can be addressed with medical treatment.(1) I object to this model mainly holding that there is currently not empirical evidence to back up the claims that psychiatric conditions are biological in nature. Without evidence of disease the administration of psychiatric drugs with dangerous side affects is suspect, especially when it is admitted that the mechanism of action for such drugs is unknown.

1) Lack of diagnostic tests

PET scans and such items are used in research to try to find brain differences between people who suffer from mental upset and those who don't. Also, other research methodologies are used but don't yield consistent results. A good psychiatrist will do physical tests to rule out physical illnesses but these test cannot confirm a brain disease or physical presence of mental illness however this is seemingly rarely the case. Diagnosis of mental illness is based on subjective checklists or behaviors and attitudes as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM). The question that needs an answer is how can one diagnose biological disease based on checklists and questions rather than on actual testing? This leaves psychiatry outside of traditional medicine.

2) Psychiatry has no cures

Although conceded as a weaker argument as many diseases don't have cures, it is of note that psychiatry is unable to cure any mental illness as note by Dr. Rex Cowdry:
"We do not know the causes [of any mental illness]. We don"t have the methods of "curing" these illnesses yet." Dr. Rex Cowdry, psychiatrist and director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1995(2)

3) Chemical Imbalance Hypothesis is not accepted by scientists

The"chemical imbalance" hypothesis still persists because no alternative biological explanation has taken root. Johan A Den Boer states the problem like this:

"While the hypothesis has been shown to be simplistic and lacking, there is sufficient evidence to consider it as a useful heuristic in the aiding of our understanding of brain chemistry and explaining pharmacotherapy" (3)

In other words, it is an explanation that can be given for treatment of patients with drugs but it does not prove a disease process.

So what is the alternative? If diagnosis is flawed, and there is no proof of biological disease process what should we do? Mental and emotional upset is very real as I have previously stated there is no denying it. Should we give drugs without solid science, the answer to that should be no. Can we treat people without drugs but with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, spiritual counseling and the like? Of course! Those methods have been empirically proven and yield results.

Hoffmann et al. give one such case of efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy here: (4)

In summary, the medical model cannot diagnose disease process in mental illness, cannot identify one(although ideas exist about it) and it cannot cure any of its illnesses. Therefore, the medical model is flawed and should be dispensed with in favor of psychological and/or spiritual treatments that are valid and sound.


(1) Ron Leifer, M.D. 2001
(3) Johan A Den Boer European Neurological Review, 2006;6(1):87-92
(4) Stefan G. Hofmann et. al The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses Cognitive Therapy and Research 2012 Oct 1; 36(5): 427"440.


thenewkid forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent has forfeited this round which is disappointing. I was hoping to be able to respond to con's claims for a robust dialogue.

I will take this time to address a couple more things regarding psychiatry and the medical model:

1) Genetics

There have been advancements in genetics where real genetic disorders can affect behavior. However, psychiatrists and their practice are not impacted by this nor does the typical psychiatrist search out a genetic physical cause for distress, they simply look to the DSM.

2) Behavior is not a disease

Psychiatric diagnosis is used as a weapon to cast out behavior that is undesirable by society. DSM diagnoses have nothing to do with medical science otherwise homosexuality would not have been removed as a psychiatric diagnosis. Diseases are malfunctions of the body not behaviors. Psychiatry tries to say that mental illness is like a real disease however, we don't deprive people of liberty based on real illnesses. When have you heard a judge say "I sentence you to treatment for you diabetes!"? Psychiatric hospitalization is worse that prison in the sense that in prison you are not punished longer because of how you see the world and yourself, it is fixed. In a psychiatric hospital the opposite is true.

I will still welcome comment from con and would like to respond. My arguments against the medical model of mental illness are valid and sound and I respectfully submit that you should declare pro the winner.

Thank you.


I will start by addressing my forfeiture from last round. I ran out of time, and had full intentions to respond to the arguments listed in round two. I will quickly address the issues found within round two, and then move to round three objections.

Round 2 Objections:

The entire basis of my opponents argument is formulated in an illogical manner. The opening statements of scope in the argument are fundamentally changed in the conclusion. In the opening remarks, my opponent claimed that his main objections to the treatment of mental illness with the current model revolves around the lack of empirical biological data, and that treating it with pharmaceutical drugs is very dangerous in the absence of biological proof. The summary on the other hand, presents an argument for the models flaws given a few conditions. First, because psychological disorders cannot be diagnosed in a unitary fashion, and second, psychological disorders cannot be cured in the current model; thusly the entire model is flawed. The obvious lack of consistency in my opponents argument is huge issue undoubtably, but the conclusion that is drawn in the summary is of even more concern. The argument given in the conclusion is incoherent when observed more closely. If the inadequacies of the current medical models of treatment is dependent on the two conditions provided, the list of other diseases that are treated in the same manner as mental illness include: cancer, the common cold, asthma, and diabetes. Although some are diagnosed using biological tests, they all share the commonality of incurableness. If the validity of diseases being treated depends on the ability to cure them, modern medicine would have come to an abrupt end long ago. The aim of modern medicine, is to my knowledge, not contingent on the ability to cure every disease. Furthermore, in claiming that there is no biological evidence to prove mental disorders, therefore they don't exist, is a fallacy in itself. Just because we cannot measure it, does not imply that it does not exist. It may in fact be human error in the measuring of mental disorders biological foundation that has lead us astray. In conclusion, the inconsistencies in my opponents arguments in the introduction and conclusion, are in themselves cause to doubt the logical formation and presentation of information.

Round 3 Objections:

The argument about the lack of observing genetic predispositions when diagnosing mental disorders is simply incorrect. Even if my opponent were able to find evidence somewhere of this claim, using it would add no value to the argument. The very broad and dangerous generalizations about "all" and "typical" psychiatrists can never be viewed as logical assertions. The incoherence continues in the next section about behaviors and diseases. In what way is the diagnosis of psychological disorders used a weapon? I agree that the majority of the disorders listed in the DSM typically lead to undesirable social behaviors, but the diseases themselves certainly cannot be objectionable to society as a whole, after all, people who suffer from them surely would not choose to. The last section of the behavior argument is of particular concern for me. We don't deprive people of liberty based on real illnesses? I doubt that my opponent missed out on the coverage of the "Ebola" epidemic. The United States of America DOES in fact deprive citizens of liberties, even when "real illnesses" are present. I will direct any question of this matter to the CDC's website concerning quarantine laws ( Furthermore, a judge has ruled on the issues my opponent is claiming they would never. The most recent case being that of an individuals "right to die." In many states this is illegal, and arguing that this is not a liberty is in direct opposition of the definition of liberty, "the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views".

In summary, it is actually quite ironic and humorous that my opponent has proclaimed his rational as "valid and sound." The things I have listed are just a few of the criticisms that I find in the validity and soundness of my opponents rationale. I am aware that I provide no counter examples, but I believe in Cartesian common sense, and anyone who observes both my opponents arguments, and my objections, will ultimately see the obscurity in the claims made; in fact they may find many more that Iz have omitted. These kinds of arguments are the reason that mental disorders are stigmatized in todays society. I realize that I too have argue from logical fallacious positions, but find it necessary to assert my argument refuting the entire argument made by my opponent. Finally I will draw attention to an issue that has been completely ignored by my opponent. The entire medical model for treating ANY disease is flawed beyond doubt. The list of symptoms when taking any pharmaceutical drug is long, and in many cases, the symptoms are worse then the aim of their treatment. The entire industry of Pharmaceutical Drugs is littered with corruption and deceit. Arguing that the use of these drugs for treating mental disorders is undoubtably true, but it ignores the actual issues of treating medical conditions as a whole. At the end of the day, narrowing the scope of criticism to only incorporate mental disorders omits the fundamental flaws within our societies treatment of medical conditions.
Debate Round No. 3


TommyB12 forfeited this round.


I rest my case.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Daktoria 3 years ago
Just an aside...

..."Cartesian common sense" is anything but. Chomsky's interpretation contradicts Descartes' original intention of using common sense in advance of experience to achieve certainty, not learning from experience to achieve probability.
Posted by TommyB12 3 years ago
Okay let me know 😃
Posted by TBR 3 years ago
I don't know that I have enough knowledge in this area, but might want to debate it. Ill check back. If no one comes along with knowledge, or more interest, I will take it.

I have one debate open right now, and eyeing several others. I also don't want to accept, and have too much going to give it proper respect.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Daktoria 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con ultimately failed around claiming, "Furthermore, in claiming that there is no biological evidence to prove mental disorders, therefore they don't exist, is a fallacy in itself. " This is not only backwards, but ignores the point of the debate. Pro isn't arguing whether or not disorders are biological, but merely that the model of disorders is flawed. That said, burden of proof is on the affirmative. Pro's argument is basically skepticism which means that the burden of proof is on Con to show that indeed, biological models are accurate. On top of this, Con goes on to talk about mental disorders being stigmatized, but Pro doesn't aim to stigmatize mental disorders. He simply doubts the medical model. On top of that, Con goes on about the medical model of illness being flawed in general, but that's an excessive generalization that Pro doesn't touch on. In fact, Pro's example of diabetes contrasts against that generalization.