(PhD. in Philosophy, UC Berkeley, August 2015) (B.A. Tufts University, Philosophy and Biology, 2003, summa cum laude)
I am interested in the mind. As such, my philosophical interests span from the Philosophy of Mind to the Philosophy of Science, The Philosophy of Biology, the Philosophy of Psychology/Psychiatry, and beyond.
My dissertation is on mental disorders and psychotherapeutic interventions. The current state of psychiatric medicine has grown increasingly concerned both with identifying faulty brain circuits and with finding better psychotropic medications. While I personally believe that movement in the direction of a “Disease/Medical Model” of mental disorders is an excellent move towards validating the existence of mental disorders, such reductive accounts are not enough to give us an accurate characterization of what mental disorders are.
In my dissertation, I point out 3 ways in which reductive thinking misses the mark in giving us a full picture of mental disorders:
In order to understand why faulty brain circuits are faulty, we must recognize them not as merely anatomical entities, but also as mechanisms that perform functions. An emphasis on functions leads me to consider Wakefield’s popular “Harmful Dysfunction” theory of mental disorders. I try to support a dysfunction-based theory of mental disorders by defending the existence of “genetically-open functions.” My hope is that eventually, we can come up with a theory of functions that need NOT depend on judgment of harm “as judged by that person’s society.”
Essentialist natural kinds have many symptoms radiating from one cause. However, mental disorders typically show a non-essentialist type of causal structure, with a whole network of symptoms and etiological factors sustaining one another and feeding back onto one another. Therefore, I argue that the structure of mental disorders is best represented by the Homeostatic Property Cluster kind model, where mental disorders are processes and systems, not entities, and where mental symptoms can have strong causal roles. This picture still views mental disorders as natural kinds.
Finally, I believe that although we can offer neuroscientific explanations for the symptoms and prognosis of mental disorders, these explanations need not imply that there aren’t crucial psychotherapeutic interventions predicated on autonomous mental routes of treatment. I claim that in some cases of mental disorders, the move to mental health and resilience is path-dependent and is based on having critical experiences, experiences that do not supervene on brain changes alone.
In psychology generally, I have specific interests in mood disorders and addiction. I am particularly interested in “motivational interviewing” and the question of how it is possible for a counselor to jump-start another’s movement towards change.
I adore teaching and mentoring and am serving as a Berkeley Connect mentor for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Outside of my academic interests, I love both listening to and writing music, reading fiction, driving long distances to strange places, the natural world, photography, animals (big and small), and animal ethics.