Advances in functional brain imaging permit studies on discrete neurotransmitter/receptor systems underlying normal conscious functioning as well as on neural and molecular processes involved in the pathogenesis of specific psychiatric disorders. This results in improved diagnostic accuracy of neurological and psychiatric disorders with commensurate improvements in the efficacy of treatments that target discrete neurotransmitter systems and neural circuits.30
Emerging evidence suggests that consistent relationships exist between specific patterns of electrical brain activity and discrete psychiatric disorders.31,32 However, it is often difficult to determine whether energetic abnormalities in the CNS are causes or effects of pathology. Electrical currents and pulsed electromagnetic fields are established conventional treatments in contemporary biomedical psychiatry. They probably have real-time effects on the biomagnetic properties of brain functioning as well as long-term effects on neurochemical and biomagnetic changes in the activity of brain circuits associated with the regulation of affect, cognition, and behavior.33
As with many therapies in biomedical psychiatry, select alternative treatments also use well-described forms of energy, such as electromagnetism and sound. Treatment approaches based on such classically described forms of energy and information may have specific or general beneficial effects at the level of neurotransmitter systems or brain circuits. In contrast, alternative therapies based on postulated nonclassical kinds of energy or information, including quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, may have both direct and subtle effects on brain function and mental health. Nonconventional modalities based on concepts that are presently outside the tenets of biomedicine include acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, Healing Touch, qigong, and Reiki. Ancient healing traditions and accumulating modern research suggest that prayer and other forms of directed intention may help alleviate symptoms of physical and mental illness. This is the domain of energy medicine.34
Novel ideas of energy and information are coming from recent theoretical developments in quantum physics. A fundamentally new direction in our understanding of consciousness—and by extension the causes of mental illness—comes from an emerging theory that regards brain functioning from the perspective of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory.35,36 Quantum brain dynamics attempts to explain subtle characteristics of brain functioning in terms of nonclassical forms of energy and information.37 Quantum brain dynamics may eventually help explain reports of therapeutic benefits achieved through nonlocal interactions between the consciousness of the clinician and that of the patient.38,39
Quantum brain dynamics is an example of a nonclassical model that invokes quantum field theory to explain certain dynamic characteristics of brain functioning that may include the influences of nonclassical forms of energy or information on mental health. It has been suggested that healing intention operates through nonlocal subtle energetic interactions between the consciousness of the clinician and the physical body or consciousness of the patient.40 In contrast, energy psychology assumes that highly developed energetic techniques (eg, acupuncture, acupressure, Healing Touch) are required to effect energetic balance and health. Mind energetics is a recently introduced conceptual model that postulates the exchange of energy through language and intention during therapeutic encounters, and it claims that energy transforms psychological defenses in beneficial ways.41 Research in these emerging paradigms will eventually yield testable hypotheses about the role of intention in health and healing and will help clarify therapeutic mechanisms associated with spiritual and mind-body practices, including meditation, yoga, prayer, and energy medicine.
Looking to the future
There are strong indications that in the coming decade mental health care will emerge as a more inclusive and more open paradigm in response to research advances in both conventional biomedicine and CAM. Congressionally mandated reforms will progressively restrict the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on research priorities in both academic psychiatry and the private sector. Quality manufacturers of select CAM modalities will become established players in an increasingly diversified health care marketplace in which private insurance and Medicare will cover select alternative therapies that will have parity with conventional biomedical treatments. Government, industry, and academic research centers will work in a more coordinated fashion to develop systematic research programs that will result in more effective and more cost-effective treatment choices. In parallel with these trends, increased collaboration between researchers and clinicians on a global scale will accelerate evolution toward integrative mental health care.
By mid-century a new paradigm will be solidly in place. New ways of thinking about and practicing medicine will lead to novel explanatory models of mental illness causation and a broad range of effective and safe clinical therapeutics in mental health care. Biomedical theory will be informed by complexity theory, by novel theories in physics and information science, and by accumulating research findings from the basic sciences and consciousness research. There will no longer be a rigid dichotomy between biomedicine and CAM.
Advances in the genetics and neurobiology of mental illness will yield more specific, more effective, and more individualized pharmacological, genetic, and energetic therapies. Ongoing advances in functional brain imaging will permit studies on postulated roles of magnetic fields, biophotons, and macroscopic highly coherent quantum field effects on normal brain functioning and mental illness. In this century, medicine will continue to evolve at an accelerating pace. Select biomedical and CAM modalities will be strongly validated by unequivocal findings, while others will be relegated to interesting historical footnotes because of safety concerns or lack of efficacy.
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