Putting the “mental” back in “mental disorders”: a perspective from research on fear and anxiety

Vincent Taschereau-Dumouchel, Matthias Michel, Hakwan Lau, Stefan G. Hofmann, Joseph E. LeDoux

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Mental health problems often involve clusters of symptoms that include subjective (conscious) experiences as well as behavioral and/or physiological responses. Because the bodily responses are readily measured objectively, these have come to be emphasized when developing treatments and assessing their effectiveness. On the other hand, the subjective experience of the patient reported during a clinical interview is often viewed as a weak correlate of psychopathology. To the extent that subjective symptoms are related to the underlying problem, it is often assumed that they will be taken care of if the more objective behavioral and physiological symptoms are properly treated. Decades of research on anxiety disorders, however, show that behavioral and physiological symptoms do not correlate as strongly with subjective experiences as is typically assumed. Further, the treatments developed using more objective symptoms as a marker of psychopathology have mostly been disappointing in effectiveness. Given that “mental” disorders are named for, and defined by, their subjective mental qualities, it is perhaps not surprising, in retrospect, that treatments that have sidelined mental qualities have not been especially effective. These negative attitudes about subjective experience took root in psychiatry and allied fields decades ago when there were few avenues for scientifically studying subjective experience. Today, however, cognitive neuroscience research on consciousness is thriving, and offers a viable and novel scientific approach that could help achieve a deeper understanding of mental disorders and their treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1322-1330
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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