Book: Models for Mental Disorder

Here is brief summary and review of Models for Mental Disorder by Peter Tyrer and Derek Steinberg. I read the fourth edition, but there is a fifth edition published in 2013.

Cover of Models for Mental Disorder by Peter Tyrer and Derek Steinberg

This is a worthwhile read if you are at all curious about different ways of understanding mental illness, psychiatry, and more specifically the “biopsychosocial approach” dominant in psychiatry. It is aimed at a medical audience — it uses terminology and examples that would be familiar to readers in medicine — but it is readable to wider audience also. It is short enough to read in an afternoon, and I found it charitable, balanced, and thorough enough in its descriptions so as to be insightful for both practice and research.

The book describes four ideas of what a mental disorder is which are prominent in psychiatry currently. These are the disease model, which sees mental illness as a special kind of physical disease (of the brain); the psychodynamic model, which sees mental illness as conflict amongst conscious and unconscious mental processes; the cognitive-behavioural model, which sees mental illness as errors in thinking; and the social model, which sees mental illness as the mismatch in fit between a person’s psychology and their society.

Throughout the book there is an attempt to describe each model of mental disorder simply and ideally, yet there is also a good discussion about the complexities, warts, and conflicts between the models. In fact, in the final chapter, there is a broad discussion about how these different models are often used in practice, wisely and unwisely. In my limited experience, these observations ring true. Importantly, the authors also illustrate the utility of combining the various models — the biopsychosocial approach — by way of illustrative case examples analysed from the perspective of each model in a systematic and thoughtful way.

This book is not, and does not claim to be, a thorough text on any of the models it discusses nor a thorough discussion of the universe of models available to a clinician or researcher. Instead, this book is perhaps best read as a primer to orient oneself to the philosophy and practice of the dominant views in psychiatry, and in that respect I think it does its job well.