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As a general rule, when psychiatrists say ‘we know’, read ‘we believe, and we want you to believe’. No. 1. – ‘brain disorders’

When psychiatrist say ‘We know that . . .’, as a general rule, take this to mean ‘we believe that . . .’ 

Of the many problems that exist within mental health globally, one of the most significant and pernicious is one that most people do not even realise exists.

Presenting itself as the major source of solutions to emotional and mental health problems, mainstream psychiatry is in fact a creator of many of the problems within global mental health. 

While working as a GP over twenty years ago, it gradually dawned on me that, generally, when psychiatrists stated ‘we know‘, they often didn’t know – they believed.  

Here is one such example:

‘We know that mental disorders are brain disorders’

The American Government-backed National Institute of Mental Health is arguably the most powerful and influential mental health institution in the world. On their website, this institute unequivocally (mis)informs the public that ‘mental disorders are disorders of the brain’, and ‘Through research, we know that mental disorders are brain disorders’. Here is an edited screenshot from their website:  

 The National Institute of Mental Health does not know that mental disorders are brain disorders; they believe this, and they want you and everyone else to believe this too.  

The truth: Psychiatric diagnoses are not known brain disorders

Psychiatric diagnoses are not known brain disorders – and that is the simple truth. If they were known brain disorders, they would come under the remit of the acknowledged medical brain disorder experts – neurologists.

Brain disorders – such as multiple sclerosis, dementia, brain tumours, Parkinson’s Disease – have identified brain pathology that is specific to that disorder. No such brain pathology has been identified in relation to any psychiatric diagnosis – including depression; bipolar disorder; schizophrenia; obsessive compulsive disorder; schizoaffective disorder; personality disorder; eating disorders; anxiety disorders. 

There are no characteristic physical findings in any psychiatric diagnoses, as there is in, for example, Parkinson’s Disease, where people develop a characteristic tremor and their way of walking, known as a “shuffling gait” 

There are no brain or other tests that can be carried out that confirm the presence of a brain disorder in relation to any psychiatric diagnosis, as there are in multiple sclerosis, brain cancer and the majority of brain disorders.

There are no specific findings upon examination of the brain at post-mortem, as there is in dementia, for example.

The truth is therefore simple and straightforward: Psychiatric diagnoses – also referred to as so-called mental illnesses or mental disorders – are not known brain disorders.

Psychiatric diagnoses are not included in comprehensive lists of brain disorders

A reliable way of checking whether or not psychiatric diagnoses are known brain disorders is to examine authoritative sources that contain comprehensive lists of brain disorders. If psychiatric diagnoses were known brain disorders, then obviously they would be included in comprehensive lists of brain disorders.

So I checked out the website of the American National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The NINDS website contains an extensive list of neurological and brain disorders, the most comprehensive such list that I have seen in 35 years as a medical doctor.

As the following screenshot shows, pretty much the first thing you see when you access their website is their list of brain disorders:  

 Clicking on the ‘Disorders’ tab on the NINDS website opening page takes us  here: 

On the lower left hand side of the above screenshot, you can see a whole series of links in alphabetical order – links to the list of known brain disorders that begin with each letter of the alphabet. 

Of the main psychiatric diagnoses, schizophrenia would generally be considered to be towards  the most severe end of the spectrum. The experiences and behaviours that are collectively referred to as ‘schizophrenia’ are widely believed to be a known brain disorder.

Many authoritative medical sources unequivocally assert that schizophrenia is a brain disorder. The following screenshot from the website of the American Psychiatric Association is just one of many such examples:

According to the American Psychiatric Association, as illustrated in the first line of the above screenshot, it is a known fact: ‘Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder’.

Given that the medical profession is one of the most trusted professions in the world, one might reasonably assume that these words of the American Psychiatric Association must be true, must be based on solid facts. Surely if the American Psychiatric Association says that ‘schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder’, this must be an established fact, right?

And if this is indeed an established fact, one should fully expect to see schizophrenia listed as a brain disorder in the extensive list of brain disorders on the website to the National Institute of Mental Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) I mentioned earlier.

So let’s check this out. Here is that screenshot of that extensive brain disorder list again, from the NINDS website ;-

I clicked the ‘S’, for schizophrenia. I arrived at the following page:

This is just a screenshot of the top of this webpage, which includes all known brain disorders beginning with ‘S’. There are 41 known disorders beginning with ‘S’ on this page. Since disorders are listed in alphabetical order, it is easy to identify where schizophrenia should appear on this list. Here’s the relevant screenshot:

If schizophrenia really is a known brain disorder, then it would definitely appear here, between the sixth entry, ‘schizoencephaly’ and the following entry, ‘Seitelberger Disease’. But there is no mention whatsoever of schizophrenia. 

This is the most extensive list of brain disorders I have ever seen. It contains many hundred brain disorders so rare that I have not heard of them in 35 years as a medical doctor – including seven of those listed in the above screenshot alone. Yet schizophrenia is not referred to at all, despite assertions that schizophrenia is not uncommon, affecting 1% of the population.

How can this be?

How can we make sense of this apparent contradiction – the American Psychiatric Association asserting unequivocally that ‘schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder’, the National Institute of Mental Health stating that ‘mental disorders are brain disorders’, while its sister’s organisation – the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – does not include schizophrenia or any other psychiatric diagnosis in its very comprehensive list of mental disorders?

Squaring this circle

The answer is simple: schizophrenia is not a known brain disorder, and this is why schizophrenia does not appear on this extensive list – and why there is no mention on this brain disorder list of depression; bipolar disorder/manic depression; obsessive compulsive disorder; eating disorders; anxiety; or any other so called mental disorder.

How about other lists of brain disorders?

Other lists of brain disorders similarly make no reference to schizophrenia or other so called mental illnesses. 

WebMD is a respected medical site, providing information for the public on a wide range of medical problems. The WebMD website includes a list of brain diseases, within which there is no mention of schizophrenia or any other so called mental illness.

The Australian Brain Foundation website also contains an extensive list of brain disorders – no mention of schizophrenia or any other so-called mental illness there either.

So what’s going on?

The medical profession want you – and everyone else – to believe that the experiences and behaviours that come to be collectively described as so-called mental illnesses are brain disorders.

They want you to believe this, not because it is true – it isn’t true – but because you and everyone else believing this strengthens their position at the top of the global mental health pyramid. 

Major benefits accrue to psychiatry as a consequence of being widely seen as the most expert mental group.

Psychiatry wants their dominant position in global mental health to continue. And this is why so many supposedly authoritative medical sources like those I have referred to here – the American National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association – are willing to misinform the public, asserting unequivocally that so-called mental disorders are known to be brain disorders, when the facts clearly state otherwise. 

Why this matters

Clearly it is wrong that the medical profession would misinform the public it serves in this manner. This systematic misinforming has resulted in the widespread misunderstanding of the experiences and behaviours of people who become diagnoses with various so-called mental illnesses.

A serious consequence of this misinformation is the failure of health authorities to adequately consider other ways of understanding these experiences and behaviours and the people who experience them.

Thus, millions of people around the world are deprived of opportunities to heal, to progress through their difficulties rather than having to settle for a compromised life, with much distress and despair. 

It is scandalous that they get away with this, but this is what happens when no one polices authority, when authorities – including medical authorities – are not held accountable, as they clearly should be, in the public interest.


Dr. Terry Lynch mental health courses:

Online courses for the general public:

Depression: Its True Nature – for the general public: 30% price reduction for limited period

Bipolar Disorder: Cracking the Code – for the general public. 30% price reduction for a limited period

Online courses for mental health professionals:

Working Therapeutically With Clients With A Psychiatric Diagnosis – online. 30% price reduction for a limited period

Depression: Its True Nature – for mental health professionals. 30% price reduction for a limited period

Bipolar Disorder: Cracking the Code – for mental health professionals. 30% price reduction for a limited period

Dr. Terry Lynch Books:     

  Click here for information about my books

Selfhood: A Key to the Recovery of Emotional Health, Mental Wellbeing and the Prevention of Mental Health Problems (2011) – 23 Five-star reviews on

Depression Delusion: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance (2015) – Foreword by Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic.

Beyond Prozac: Healing Mental Distress (2004) – Best seller in Ireland in 2001, reaching no. 3 in non-fiction best sellers.


Testimonials about Terry Lynch’s course “Depression: Its True Nature” for mental health professionals

“A ground-breaking new course for all mental health professionals” – Lucy Johnstone, UK clinical psychologist, author and trainer, September 2016, stated in a tweet, @Clinpsychlucy

Yi Ling (Singapore): “Thanks Dr. Lynch. You made the learning easy and the references were very helpful. I have learnt so much and I look forward to other courses.”

Evelyn: “Very informative course and as a psychotherapist, invaluable insight”.

Julie: “I very much enjoyed the course on Depression. For me I found the last sections on Wounding etc very helpful. It has given me an added dimension of understanding and also confidence. I found as I was listening to you speaking I could apply it to certain Clients which has been so helpful. Definitely had some “a ha!” moments! So I just wanted to give you that feedback and thank you for putting together such a comprehensive course on a subject that is so misunderstood. A course like this has been badly needed I feel.”

Thomas: “I just finished the depression course and want to congratulate you on the course, content and delivery. I enjoyed every minute of it and it has been most thought provoking”.

Carole: “Highly recommended course. Transformational and worth every cent. Looking forward to the next one!

Claire: “. Your work is a massive achievement, a revelation and has personally validated my personal experience of mental emotional distress in the past and provides massive hope for the future and my career”.

Anne: “I finished the ‘True Nature of Depression’ course this evening. To be honest I did not want it to end. I don’t think anything I can say could properly do justice to the mind-boggling breadth of area you cover in the three sections. As someone who has been involved in education for most of my own career I have never come across a better designed course to get across so successfully, such a potentially complex subject.

The truth about the prevailing view that you encapsulate so powerfully is actually quite devastating so it has been greatly appreciated that it is delivered with such true warmth in your face to face delivery.

Thank you so very much for it all.

I do want to go over certain parts again and that is a great thing that I can do that. There is a great deal for me to reflect on both professionally and personally re my own mental health situation in view of what you present.”

Nicole: “Insightful and thought-provoking”.

Kathy: “I finished your course Depression, its true nature about a week ago. I have never come across such a course before and found it excellent. You challenge the prevailing viewpoint repeatedly but always backed up by rigorous and thorough research. You tell the truth but do so in a courageous, respectful and dignified manner. Most of all, you offer real HOPE of recovery to those in mental distress. I respect and admire your work very much and am very glad to know you. I will recommend you (and have already) to anyone interested and open to alternative viewpoints of mental health states”.

Andrew: “A highly worthwhile undertaking! – Thank you very much Terry for an intriguing and insightful course backed up by solid evidence. A huge amount of work obviously went into compiling the course, backed by immense knowledge and experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is open minded enough to begin to question the medical orthodoxies around depression.”

Anne: “I knew from your previous work that this course would be good but to say it has exceeded any expectations I had is a serious understatement.”

Valerie: ” A highly impressive course”.

Donal: “Terry, I am really enjoying the course. Full of detail and brave argument. As I complete each section there is a sense that no stone is left unturned.”

Patrick: “I’m learning a lot from this course.”

Alastair: “Course is highly interesting”.

Mark: “This was a very comprehensive course, thank you”.

Testimonials for my course “Bipolar Disorder: Cracking The Code” for mental health professionals

Chris: “Many thanks for providing such an interesting and helpful course. I have found your meticulous unpacking of received medical ideas extremely useful as also your provision of a very important and enjoyable psychological alternative approach.”

Rebecca: “I found your course very thought provocative and useful”. 

Serena: “Loved it. Thank you. What I also love about the course is being able to go over aspects of the course again, whenever I want”.

Anne: “Thank you so very much for producing this course. It is hard to put into words how incredibly useful all your presentations were. You have finally made sense of what bipolar disorder is in a world that has no idea. The title is very apt.”

Claire: “This course is by far the most useful thing I have ever encountered about bipolar disorder in over twenty years.”

Mark: “I am really enjoying your ‘Bipolar disorder: Cracking the code’ course”.

Patricia: “This course is excellent, and I’m finding it both interesting and inspiring”.

Maureen: “A very interesting course”.

Testimonials from my online course, “Working Therapeutically With Clients With A Psychiatric Diagnosis”

This is a new course, created in 2018


I wanted to also add a big thank you for running this course. I am a fairly new member of Online Events and for the first time I’ve nodded my head and said halleluiah. As a ‘medical professional’ it is so pleasing to hear that you are challenging us as professionals. Im so pleased that you have had the forethought to developed this course to inform my practice as a Psychotherapist. I work within the clients who have experienced sexual trauma and many have already been through psychiatric mental health services and their underlying trauma has never been discussed.


“Very interesting material. The information in this course is confirming l my belief that mental health should fit within the psychological model and not the medical.”


“I have found the course very useful and informative. It has given me ideas on how I work with clients, although I have over the last few years I have come to my own understanding of how trauma and challenge in people lives thwarts a healthy sense of self and emotional awareness and regulation.”

Testimonials from inaugural 2017-2018 “Working Therapeutically With Clients With A Psychiatric Diagnosis” course

Blended learning course – day attendances and online learning

Next intake: September 2018 – email for details

60-plus CPD hours

David Shannon, C. Psychol. Ps.S.I., Chartered Senior Counselling Psychologist:

‘This course has given me much more confidence in working psychotherapeutically with people with a diagnosis of mental disorder. For this alone the course has been money well spent. Terry’s pragmatic, human and very sensitive way of working with and thinking about ‘mental disorder’ has been very reassuring. Terry’s model of fundamentally seeing ‘wounding’ and distress in its many forms as at the core of human distress is something I know I will return to as a compass bearing again and again in my own professional work. I heartily commend anyone who is interested in learning more about the DSM diagnoses and lacking confidence in working with some of the more ‘severe’ or intractable diagnoses to take this course. Terry’s generosity in sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience, and willingness to continue to do so, has been exceptional in my experience of learning.’

John Woulfe, BSc. Counselling & Psychotherapy Psychotherapist, Pieta House:

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this course; everything from the high quality of research and information provided, to the breadth of knowledge and insight shared by our course tutor Dr Lynch, the experiences shared by fellow professionals whom attended this course, right down to the comfort of the setting where our classes took place. Dr Lynch’s approach to facilitation lends itself to very interesting and engaged discussion on psychiatric diagnoses and the course does well to help expand the remit of a therapist’s role in working with clients with a psychiatric diagnosis. The dominant medical view of labels such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Personality Disorder would lead clients and counsellors alike to believe that the greatest outcome for treatment is simply a “management” of symptoms. However having attended Dr Lynch’s course, I now feel more confident and well equipped to work with diagnosed clients in a much more recovery oriented manner and I see that my clients are feeling the benefits too.’

Ciaran Whyte, BSc (Hnrs), Counsellor and Psychotherapist::

‘Dr Terry Lynch’s work in the field of working with clients with a psychiatric diagnosis is absolutely fascinating. For me personally this course represents a groundbreaking cornerstone of change within the world of integrative psychotherapeutic care. I have been following Dr Lynch’s work for quite a few years now and I strongly recommend this course to anyone who is feeling a little sceptical as to the depth of their own personal psychotherapeutic skills. This course will not only teach you new insights and skills but will also put you in touch with your own personal psychotherapeutic skills that you may not have discovered beforehand. This learning is also strengthened by experiential feedback from other students’. 

Marie Crean, Counsellor:

‘This training course is a must for all professionals who wish to gain more in-depth insights to the therapeutic processes when working therapeutically with clients diagnosed with a psychiatric diagnosis. I have gained more confidence and feel more competence since completing this training as Dr Terry Lynch presents and delivers this training course in such a novel way that holds one’s concentration and enthusiasm and thirst for learning’ 

A.P. Coffey:

“This course allows you to invest in hope for people because it systematically demystifies the myth of the fixed diagnoses and instead highlights the continuum of trauma. Terry respects each individual as a sovereign being who has the capacity to work towards healing by investing in time helping people to understand their wounding and then focusing on necessary skill development. Terry acknowledges the use of medication as a sometimes necessary part of an holistic therapeutic approach towards recovery. This course is for anybody who engages with people who are mentally vulnerable either as health professional because it is honest and truly evidence based. Thank you Terry.”

Desera McCabe, psychotherapist:

‘As an accredited psychotherapist I enrolled on this course to fill what I felt was a big gap in my training to date.  I was not disappointed. Terry displayed enthusiasm and motivation in delivering a high quality course which has positively changed how I view working with clients whom have a psychiatric diagnosis.’

Joanne Hanrahan, psychotherapist:

‘For me, this course really uncovered many of the truths and myths about Psychiatric Diagnoses.  After completing the course I have a much greater understanding of how such diagnoses are made, and, as a result, have much more confidence in working with this cohort of clients.’



Black Friday/Cyber Monday – 50 % off all courses until midnight Monday 27th November 2017

50% discount on all courses up to midnight on Monday 27th November 2017:

As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach later this week, I am making all of my mental health courses available at 50% discount until midnight on Cyber Monday – 27th November 2017.

Here are links to the course details and 50% discounts:


Depression: Its True Nature – Depression, true nature, gen public, 50% discount until Mon 27th Nov 2017

Bipolar Disorder: Cracking the Code – Bipolar disorder, cracking code, gen public: 50% discount until Mon 27th Nov 2017


Working Therapeutically with People with a Psychiatric Diagnosis: – WTWPWAPD course, MH Prof: 50% discount until Mon 27th November 2017

Depression: Its True Nature – Depression, true nature: MH prof, 50% discount until Mon 27th Nov 2017

Bipolar disorder: Cracking the Code – Bipolar disorder, cracking code, MH Prof: 50% discount until 27th Nov 2017


If you have any questions or need clarification about theses courses, email me at 

Speaking engagements

Here are some of my recent and upcoming speaking engagements:

20th October 2018 – Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) Annual Conference. Conference theme: “Into the Future”.

28th to 30th June 2018 – Bogota, Columbia. William Glasser International Conference. Talk title: To be confirmed. Click here for conference information.

27th and 28th October 2017Bled, Slovenia. European Institute for Reality Therapy Conference, “The Days of Leon Lojk”. Talk titles:- Day 1: “Towards Real Truth and Progress in Global Mental Health”, Day 2: “Working Therapeutically with Clients with a Psychiatric Diagnosis”. Click here for conference information.

07th October 2017 – Kilkenny, IrelandAnnual Education Day for general practitioners.

28th September 2017 – Limerick, Ireland. Psychotherapist Training Day, Henry Street Social Services Centre, Limerick.

19th July 2017 – radio interview. The Peter Breggin Hour. My third appearance on American psychiatrist Peter Breggin’s radio show. Click here to listen to our conversation.

14th October 2016 – Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit. Talk title:- “Towards a New Era in Mental Health”.

06th October 2016 – Cork Institute of Technology. Department of Social Care. Talk title:-  “Towards a New Era in Mental Health”.

08th April 2016 – Limerick Institute of Technology.  Keynote speaker, 3rd Annual Undergraduate Conference and Social Science Fair. Link to LIT News report.




What is bipolar disorder?

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What is bipolar disorder?

Every month, over 30,000 google searches are entered for answers to the question, “What is bipolar disorder?”.

As a physician, psychotherapist, best-selling mental health author, mental health educator and provider of a recovery-oriented mental health service in which I have spent many hours every week for over 16 years working with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder – and prior to that, for 10 years as a GP, or family physician – I am in a position to provide some answers to this important question.

My many years of study, reflection and most of all, years of listening very carefully to hundreds of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder has opened my eyes to truths and realities about bipolar disorder that are regularly missed by the prevailing approach to bipolar disorder.

I have created a major course on bipolar disorder that – among many other things – answers this important question.

The course is entitled Bipolar disorder: Cracking the code – all you need to know about bipolar disorder, in one course.

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – or if someone important to you has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – and you want to learn a great deal more about bipolar disorder, to help yourself or someone important to you, click here  .

If you would like more information about this course, and you are a mental health professional, and you want to greatly increase your understanding so you can work more effectively with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, click here .

The prevailing view

When I use the term “prevailing view”, I mean the commonly held view or understanding of bipolar disorder.

This view originates from society’s appointed mental health experts – psychiatrists. This view then filters through to mental health organisations, the media, doctors’ offices.

This understanding has become the commonly accepted and unquestioned understanding of bipolar disorder, of what bipolar disorder is.

What is bipolar disorder? The prevailing view

The prevailing view is that bipolar disorder is fundamentally a brain problem – a brain chemical imbalance; a brain disorder; a brain disease; a medical illness just like diabetes; a medical illness for which there is no cure, no chance of full recovery, for which therefore life lifelong maintenance drug treatment is the best option.

Such assertions commonly emanate from authoritative sources such as the US National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association, and many others.

Most people understandably assume that if sources such as these assert that bipolar disorder is known to be a brain disorder, a medical illness just like diabetes, these statements must be true.

Putting the prevailing view to the Truth Test

Perhaps because the prevailing view of bipolar originates from within the medical profession, one of the most trusted groups on this planet, most people  assume that there is no need to test this prevailing view.

As a member of the medical profession for over 30 years now, specialising in mental health for the past 16 years, I have come to know how important it is to test all pronouncements on mental health, including – and sometimes, especially – the pronouncements that emanate from within the medical profession, from psychiatry and to a lesser but significant degree, from GPs (general practitioners, family physicians).

I say “especially” here because the medical profession largely dictate and direct mental health globally, so it is especially important that the public can trust in what they are told by doctors in relation to mental health.

And in order for us to know that we can trust what doctors tell us about mental health, we need to test what they say.  In so many areas of life, populations in many countries have learned to their great cost how dangerous it can be to completely trust the words of people and groups in positions of power and authority, without putting their words and their practices to the test.

People and groups in authority – including those with global authority over mental health – should similarly be regularly expected to have their pronouncements and their ways of working and operating put to the test.

This is vitally necessary, in the public interest, to ensure that the public are being told truths rather than untruths and misinformation. Let’s see what happens when the prevailing view of bipolar disorder is tested against a core value and principle – THE TRUTH.

1. Bipolar disorder is a known brain chemical imbalance illness

It is widely believed that brain chemical imbalances are known to occur in bipolar disorder. Many highly respected medical sources and mental health organisations refer to this on their websites and information leaflets. The vast majority of the several hundred people diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I have met over the years have been told by their doctors – psychiatrists and GPs – that they have a brain chemical imbalance, which is causing their bipolar disorder.

The Truth:

No brain chemical imbalance has ever been identified in even one person diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ever, anywhere in the world. No brain chemical imbalance tests are ever carried out here. Even people with a 30-year history of bipolar disorder have never had their supposed “brain chemical imbalance” confirmed by any test or investigation.

(If you would like to download a copy of this article for future reference, click here )

2. Bipolar disorder is a known brain disease, brain disorder

Many authoritative medical sources unequivocally assert that bipolar disorder is known to be a brain disease, a brain disorder. Examples include the American Psychiatric Association, the US-based National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, possibly the most influential mental health organisation in the world) and the International Bipolar Foundation.

The Truth:

Bipolar disorder has never been established to be a brain disease, a brain disorder. Bipolar disorder does not even come close to meeting the medical criteria for a brain disease.

I checked three official comprehensive lists of brain and neurological disorders. Each of these lists contained many brain disorders that I have never encountered in over 30 years as a physician – that’s how comprehensive these lists are. Bipolar disorder was not listed as a brain disorder in any of these three lists.

One of these lists is on the website of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a sister organisation of the National Institute of Mental Health, in which it is explicitly and unequivocally claimed that bipolar disorder is a brain disorder.

ALL known brain and neurological diseases and disorders are treated by society’s appointed expert brain doctors – neurologists and neurosurgeons, NOT by psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists sometimes claim that neurologists treat organic brain disorders (brain disorders known to have biological brain abnormalities) while psychiatrists treat functional brain disorders.

In truth, this is both an inaccurate distinction and incorrect.

For example, no problem or abnormality in brain function has been reliably scientifically identified as being present in bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder cannot therefore be truthfully described as a disorder of brain function – although it is often described as such.

In a small minority of medical problems there can be identified problems with organ function without an identified corresponding biological abnormality (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome). These conditions are treated by the same group of specialists that great known organic biological conditions within that organ or system.

For example, the specialists in irritable bowel syndrome are the same group of specialists that treat bowel cancer and ulcerative colitis – gastroenterologists (bowel specialists).

In truth, it is neurologists and not psychiatrists who treat brain disorders where there is abnormality in brain function is clearly present without there being an identified corresponding biological abnormality – epilepsy being one such example.

3. Bipolar disorder is a medical illness just like diabetes

This assertion is regularly made – in medical information about bipolar disorder, in information provided by mental health organisations, and in doctors’ offices around the world. People are regularly told that, just as diabetes is a chemical imbalance illness (the imbalance being a deficiency of insulin, leading to abnormally raised blood glucose levels), bipolar disorder is a brain chemical imbalance illness.

According to the prevailing view, taking medication for bipolar disorder is just the same as taking insulin for diabetes.

The truth:

From a scientific perspective, diabetes and bipolar disorder are poles apart. For example:

A diagnosis of diabetes is never made without having established (though laboratory investigations) that the person’s blood glucose levels are abnormally high. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is always made without any brain chemical imbalance tests being carried out, never mind found to be abnormally high or low.

Treatment for diabetes is never initiated without having first established the presence of the chemical imbalance that is central to diabetes – raised blood glucose (except perhaps in some very rare life-and-death situations where the doctor very strongly suspects diabetes and there is not enough time to get a blood glucose test result). Treatment for bipolar disorder is always initiated without any knowledge or laboratory evidence of any brain chemical imbalance or problem.

4. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, no chance of full recovery.

This is what people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are generally told. Stephen Fry, actor and President of MIND, a major British mental health charity, has publicly stated that bipolar disorder is “incurable”, a claim endorsed by his psychiatrist, who unequivocally stated in public to Stephen Fry that “you will have this (condition) for the rest of your life”.

The truth:

In 2008, prior to Stephen Fry being appointed as president of MIND and eight years before he told that world that bipolar disorder was “incurable”, this same organisation awarded British doctor Liz Miller as MIND Champion of  the Year as a recognition of her full recovery from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

In a subsequent 2008 Guardian interview, Dr. Liz Miller described the psychiatrists who treated her “have not been that helpful”.

Full recovery from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is possible. I personally know over two dozen people who have made excellent recoveries from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, many of whom had several hospital admissions for bipolar disorder.

The recovery process is often challenging and difficult. I am not suggesting that everyone can recover, or that everyone should try to. But recovery is not impossible, as many supposedly authoritative sources would have you believe.

Does all of this mean that bipolar disorder does not exist, is not real?

No, it doesn’t mean that. The experiences and behaviours that come to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder are very real. “Highs” (manic episodes) and “lows” (depressive episodes) do occur.

But bipolar disorder does not exist as an established medical illness, brain disorder or brain disease. If bipolar disorder really was a brain disorder, it would be treated by neurologists and would appear on official lists of brain disorders.

Does this mean that people taking medication for bipolar disorder can or should stop taking their medication?

No, it doesn’t mean that either. Medication has an important place, an important role in bipolar disorder. Stopping bipolar disorder medication can have big consequences, such as relapse, hospitalisation, withdrawal effects.

If bipolar disorder is not a brain disorder, a medical illness, then, what is it?

In order to arrive at a deep understanding of bipolar disorder, we must expand our horizons beyond the narrow and distorted prevailing view of bipolar disorder.

I say “narrow” because the prevailing view wrongly approaches bipolar disorder as a biological disorder, largely ignoring the emotional, psychological and social aspects, aspects that are in fact crucially important in terms of properly understanding bipolar disorder.

I say “distorted” because the artificially narrow focus on biology is seriously distorted – the distortions being the many unequivocally-made assertions about bipolar disorder being a known brain chemical imbalance; a brain disorder; a medical illness just like diabetes, for example.

The key to understanding bipolar disorder: –

Understanding the experiences and behaviours that come to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder

By setting out to understand the experiences and behaviours that come to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, we can understand what bipolar disorder is and why it occurs.

This is what I have been doing for the past 20 years.

Here’s just one example:

According to the prevailing view of bipolar disorder, manic episodes make no sense, other than being understood as a characteristic of bipolar disorder.

Therefore the only treatment that applies is medication.

The truth:

There are a number of triggering factors for manic episodes. Understanding these trigger factors, and the process from being relatively level and settled, to being in a manic state provides a wealth of information with which to understand manic states and why they occur.

For example; suddenly-occurring major life events are one of the commonest triggers for manic episodes – the sudden death of someone very important in one’s life, for example. I have seen this on many occasions in my work with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Rather than assume the total “wrongness” of the features of bipolar disorder, I have learned that coming at bipolar from the opposite perspective is key to understanding bipolar disorder.

I start by looking for the “rightness” in the person’s reaction – why it makes sense as an understandable reaction for them.

By taking this perspective, for example, I have learned ( because I have witnessed it on many occasions) the manic episodes serve some purposes. Understanding this opens many other channels of potential work, in addition to medication.

I have learned that, for some people, entering a manic episode becomes a way of avoiding having to really feel, deal with and address very difficult and challenging situations, such as the death of someone very important.

The manic episode then causes a whole series of other problems, but it is initially deemed needed or necessary, as (a) a way of avoiding full-on contact with what for that person has become an extremely difficult reality, and (b) as an indirect way of expressing the overwhelm and distress the person is experiencing at that time.

Bipolar disorder is eminently understandable

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – or if someone important to you has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – and you want to learn a great deal more about bipolar disorder, to help yourself or someone important to you, click here  for information about my course, Bipolar disorder: Cracking the code – all you need to know about bipolar disorder, in one course.

If you would like more information about this course, and you are a mental health professional, and you want to greatly increase your understanding so you can work more effectively with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, click here .

If this information was helpful to you, please share with people who might benefit from having this information.

If you would like to download a copy of this article for future reference, click here .

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Mental health professional, physician, psychotherapist, educator, best-selling mental health author, provider of recovery-oriented mental health service.

Member of the Irish government-appointed Expert Group on Mental Health Policy (which formulated A Vision for Change (2006), Ireland’s official mental health policy document).

Member of the Irish government-appointed Implementation Group for A Vision for Change (2006-9), the Second Monitoring Group for A Vision for Change (2009-12), and the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) Expert Advisory Group on Mental Health (2006-8).

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Selfhood affirmations – free download

How we talk to ourselves really matters

Many of us slip into habits regarding our ongoing inner conversation – how we talk to ourselves.

If our inner conversation is predominantly self-critical, self-judging, putting ourselves down all the time, then changing how we see and talk to ourselves is a helpful step. If this is you, then I strongly recommend that you commit to changing how you talk to and relate to yourself.

Download my “Selfhood Affirmations”

– taken directly from my book Selfhood: A Key to the Recovery of Emotional Wellbeing, Mental Health and the Prevention of Mental Health Problems – and employ them as I suggest within the download.

This Selfhood Affirmations download contains two and a half pages of affirmations, affirmations that I carefully constructed over several months as I was writing Selfhood.

Another way to use affirmations is to record them, in your own voice, and listen back to the affirmations.

REMEMBER: You don’t gave to believe the contents of the affirmations for them to work.

Persistence is key! Make the changes I suggest, make them part of your day, your life.