The biomedical model of mental disorder: a critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research

Clin Psychol Rev. 2013 Nov;33(7):846-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.007. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


The biomedical model posits that mental disorders are brain diseases and emphasizes pharmacological treatment to target presumed biological abnormalities. A biologically-focused approach to science, policy, and practice has dominated the American healthcare system for more than three decades. During this time, the use of psychiatric medications has sharply increased and mental disorders have become commonly regarded as brain diseases caused by chemical imbalances that are corrected with disease-specific drugs. However, despite widespread faith in the potential of neuroscience to revolutionize mental health practice, the biomedical model era has been characterized by a broad lack of clinical innovation and poor mental health outcomes. In addition, the biomedical paradigm has profoundly affected clinical psychology via the adoption of drug trial methodology in psychotherapy research. Although this approach has spurred the development of empirically supported psychological treatments for numerous mental disorders, it has neglected treatment process, inhibited treatment innovation and dissemination, and divided the field along scientist and practitioner lines. The neglected biopsychosocial model represents an appealing alternative to the biomedical approach, and an honest and public dialog about the validity and utility of the biomedical paradigm is urgently needed.

Keywords: Biomedical model; Biopsychosocial model; Chemical imbalance; Disease; Psychotherapy; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Psychiatry / trends*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / etiology
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design*


  • Psychotropic Drugs