Child Maltreatment and Psychosis

Child Maltreatment and Psychosis: A Return to a Genuinely Integrated Bio-Psycho-Social Model

John Read 1, Paul Jay Fink 2, Thom Rudegeair 3, Vincent Felitti 4, Charles L. Whitfield 5 

For several decades the conceptualization and treatment of mental health problems, including psychosis, have been dominated by a rather narrow focus on genes and brain functions. Psychosocial factors have been relegated to mere triggers or exacerbators of a supposed genetic predisposition. This paper advocates a return to the original stress-vulnerability model proposed by Zubin and Spring in 1977, in which heightened vulnerability to stress is not, as often wrongly assumed, necessarily genetically inherited, but can be acquired via adverse life events. There is now a large body of research demonstrating that child abuse and neglect are significant causal factors for psychosis. Ten out of eleven recent general population studies have found, even after controlling for other factors, including family history of psychosis, that child maltreatment is significantly related to psychosis. Eight of these studies tested for, and found, a dose-response. Interpreting these findings from psychological and biological perspectives generates a genuinely integrated bio-psycho-social approach as originally intended by Zubin and Spring. The routine taking of trauma histories from all users of mental health services is recommended, and a staff training program to facilitate this is described.

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