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How should mental health and ill-health be conceptualised, investigated, and treated?  The picture today is complex, confusing and perhaps even contradictory.  Today, people with various forms of mental health problems may find themselves consulting a psychiatrist, a clinical or a neuro-psychologist, a counsellor, or possibly a neurosurgeon—and perhaps more than one of these.

They may be subject to various investigations in the form of psychometric tests, or brain 'imaging'.  They may be diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, or assessed in terms of psychological traits.  They may be offered pills, or various 'talk' therapies, or physical therapies such as deep-brain stimulation.

They may find themselves in hospitals, therapeutic communities, or in the community.

Underlying this huge range of different mental health professionals, diagnostic, therapeutic and investigative tools, and treatment modalities, lie the fundamental sciences related to them. All of these provide ways of exploring human behaviour, experience and suffering, and how society, the mind, and the brain are implicated in these.

But are these sciences complementary, or rivals?  What are their conceptual commitments?  Should we be welcoming or resisting their interest in us?

In particular, are there valid and distinctive areas of inquiry properly labelled Neuroethics and Neurolaw?

This research focus explores these questions, pursuing individual and collaborative research within the Centre and with colleagues from other departments of the University of Otago and around the world.


Collaborative research

  • Are understandings of human neural function helpful in examining mental disorders and their genesis?
    • With Professor Liz Franz (Department of Psychology, University of Otago)
  • Are neurosurgical interventions likely to be helpful in psychological disorders and what are the ethical dimensions of such interventions?
    • With Professor Dirk de Ridder and Dr Reuben Johnson (Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Otago)
  • Are Māori concepts of health and identity able to be used in post-colonial understandings of mental disorder and its determinants?
    • With Dr Armon Tamatea (Waikato University)
  • Wittgenstein and mental health—symposium for 16th International Network for Philosophy and Psychiatry Conference (2014, Sofia)
    • With Professor Werdie Van Staden (University of Pretoria)
  • Re-constituting debates in cross-cultural settings about concepts of disease, illness and health:  ADHD for example
    • With Associate Professor Jing-Bao Nie  (Bioethics Centre, University of Otago)

Research students

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