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Regulating Brain Chemicals and Mental Illnesses with WINCS and DBS

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The Mayo Clinic just released a new and potentially powerful new technology to help people overcome depression and other psychiatric difficulties. It is called WINCS or "Wireless Instantaneous Neurotransmitter Concentration Sensor." The way it works is that it is implanted into the brain to measure neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and others. It does so at the very moment the neurologist is working with the patient.

The hope is that doctors will be able to locate the specific parts of the brain that need to have electrodes placed for DBS or Deep Brain Stimulation. The plan is that the more accurate placement of these electrodes based on information from WINCS will result in greatly improved outcomes for illnesses such as depression, chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease and many others. Currently, DBS is being used with a few patients with Parkinson’s and with Major depressions that are so severe that nothing else helps. The results have been mixed partially because of the difficulty in locating the proper part of the brain.

An Observation and Opinion:

While I admit that this research is very exciting and does offer hope for those with intractable types of depression in which all hope has been lost, the reader should be very cautious.

Modern psychiatry has come to rely too much on medications in the attempt to treat mental illnesses. A recent report stated that most psychiatrists today no longer practice psychotherapy because they rely solely on medications.

In my view, along with many other psychologists, social workers and some psychiatrists, treating mental illnesses with verbal communication will continue to be vitally important. It goes back to the old Gestalt Psychology principle that "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." We are not just a collection of neurons and neurotransmitters. There have been too many examples of people who did not get better with anti depressant medications until they entered psychotherapy. In addition, there are people who recovered from depression with psychotherapy alone. Research shows the Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy helps improve the balance of chemical in the brain.

Please do not misinterpret what I am suggesting here. I am NOT saying that this new technology discussed above is useless. What I am saying is that it will not be a cure for mental illnesses and that we should not delude ourselves into thinking that our problems will be solved with WINCS and DBS.

What do you think? I would like to hear from you, the readers, about this issue.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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