Causal explanation in psychiatry – beyond scientism and skepticism

August 22, 2014
VU University Amsterdam


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Confirmed Speakers

William Bechtel
Denny Borsboom
Shaun Gallagher
Victor Gijsbers
Hannah van Loo
Jan-Willem Romeijn
Tim Thornton

Brief description

Since psychiatry firmly established itself as a scientific discipline, it has been propelled forward by the hope that the different diagnostic categories will turn out to correspond to unique underlying causes. However, so far there is hardly any evidence that the behavioral, cognitive and emotional manifestations of disorders such as major depression or schizophrenia can be traced back to relatively simple, common causal trajectories. Rather, the etiology of almost all mental disorders seems to be multifactorial. Different etiological factors also appear to span different levels of explanation, ranging from the (epi)genetic, neurobiological to the psychological and social level.

Progress with respect to these fundamental issues has been limited in the past decades. This has led to different responses: clinicians, broadly speaking, tend to be sceptical about the prospects of causal modeling in psychiatry; whereas scientists tend to cling to a reductionist and scientistic view on mental disorder, according to which true explanation of mental disorder is considered the province of the natural sciences only (biology, genetics, neuroscience).

Psychiatry needs to find a way beyond scepticism and scientism. The aim of the workshop is to discuss novel theoretical and empirical strategies that exploit this tension in a fruitful and constructive way.

Special Issue

A selection of the papers presented during the workshop will be included in a Frontiers Special Issue (to appear in 2015). There is still some room for other contributions, please submit your abstract here: Selected abstracts will be invited to submit a full paper.


If you would like to participate, please send an e-mail to Roy Dings ( Attendance is free, but there are only a limited number of seats available. Registration will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Further details will be circulated in due course. 

Scientific organization
Leon de Bruin (VU University Amsterdam/Radboud University Nijmegen)
Gerrit Glas (VU University Amsterdam, Dimence Institute of Mental Health)
Annemarie Kalis (University of Utrecht)
Derek Strijbos (Dimence Institute of Mental Health, Radboud University Nijmegen)

The organisers gratefully acknowledge the support of the research project Science Beyond Scientism (AKC/VU Amsterdam) and Dimence (Zwolle).

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