BCPA Promotes Psychological Alternatives to Conceptualizing and Treating Mental Health Disorders

November 2017


BCPA Promotes Psychological Alternatives to Conceptualizing and Treating Mental Health Disorders

[View PDF] The BC Psychological Association endorses a biopsychosocial model for understanding and treating mental health disorders. This acknowledges contributing factors from the biological (neurochemistry and physical illnesses), psychological (feelings, thoughts and behaviours), and social spheres (interpersonal experiences) as they contribute to functional difficulties that manifest in reduced resilience, difficulty coping, and psychiatric symptoms. The prevailing medical model focuses primarily on the biological determinants and treatments of mental illness through psychopharmacology (psychiatric medications). Psychologists offer evidence-based, non-pharmacological treatments for individuals experiencing mental health difficulties.

Research has shown that medications are often no better than placebo for mild to moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and personality disorders, as well as several other conditions. Medications often have side effects, and many people are averse to taking medications. Psychological treatments, including various forms of psychotherapy, often serve as cost- effective, efficient alternatives to psychiatric medications, particularly for those experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. For people with more severe disorders (such as schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder), or treatment resistant disorders, psychological approaches may also serve as effective adjuncts to prescribed medications.

Psychologists have, on average, 10 years post-secondary, accredited-university education and 3,000 hours of supervised practical training. They are science-practitioners trained in evidence- based assessments and treatments. They are the only profession qualified to administer psychological tests required for differential diagnoses. Their scope of practice overlaps with psychiatrists in that both are qualified to diagnose mental disorders and provide treatment. Typically, psychologists have more training in evidence-based psychotherapy, while psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications and admit patients to hospital, as needed. Psychologists are also uniquely trained in program development and evaluation.

Psychologists are regulated by the Health Professions Act and the College of Psychologists. They are required to maintain ongoing continuing education to keep current on research. They are also required to maintain continued competencies in their declared areas of practice.


Historically, mental health diagnoses and treatments have focused on the “medical” (biological) model of mental illness. This has influenced clients’ understanding of treatment options, as well as, how health-care funds are prioritized and ultimately utilized. The current state of the mental health research does not support the continued over-reliance on the concept of mental health concerns as a biological disease. Other factors, as cited above, contribute to functional difficulties. The British Psychological Society heralds the need for a paradigm shift from the disease model to reasonable, evidenced-based, psychological alternatives to the traditional medical model. The BPS aims to educate clients, public health officials and the general public.


Accordingly, the BC Psychological Association hereby endorses, in principle, the British Psychological Society's (Division of Clinical Psychology) 2013 Position Statement - Classification of behaviour and experience in relation to functional psychiatric diagnoses: Time for a paradigm shift.

The Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP) is of the view that it is timely and appropriate to affirm publicly that the current classification system as outlined in DSM and ICD, in respect of the functional psychiatric diagnoses, has significant conceptual and empirical limitations. Consequently, there is a need for a paradigm shift in relation to the experiences that these diagnoses refer to, towards a conceptual system which is no longer based on a ‘disease’ model.


This position statement is consistent with the BCPA mandate to serve the science and profession of psychology and its application throughout BC.

Approved by the Board of Directors – November 17, 2017