Trial By Error: Psychologist Brian Hughes Discusses His New Book, “A Conceptual History of Psychology”

By David Tuller, DrPH

My friend and colleague Brian Hughes, a professor of psychology at the University of Galway in Ireland, recently published his latest book“A Conceptual History of Psychology: The Mind Through Time.” Rather than dating the field of psychology to the creation and growth of university departments of psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Professor Hughes traces its roots back to intellectual traditions dating back thousands of years.

Here’s a description from Bloomsbury, the publisher:

“‘A Conceptual History of Psychology’ charts the development of psychology from its foundations in ancient philosophy to the dynamic scientific field it is today. Emphasizing psychology’s diverse global heritage, the book explains how, across centuries, human beings came to use reason, empiricism, and science to explore each other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours...

The book skillfully interweaves conceptual and historical issues to illustrate the contemporary relevance of history to the discipline. It shows how changing historical and cultural contexts have shaped the way in which modern psychology conceptualizes individuals, brains, personality, gender, cognition, consciousness, health, childhood, and relationships.”

Professor Hughes and I recently talked about his reasons for writing the book and how it differs from other histories of psychology. We also discussed why the belief that pathophysiological processes and not “unhelpful” or “dysfunctional” beliefs are at the root of ME and long Covid and should not be dismissed as engaging in “mind-body dualism”—the standard knee-jerk response from the usual suspects in this field.

5 thoughts on “Trial By Error: Psychologist Brian Hughes Discusses His New Book, “A Conceptual History of Psychology””

  1. Mike Fraumeni

    I must watch this, thank you David for posting this. As well, readers may also be interested in this, somewhat related:

    “His focus included cases of female hysteria, in which women exhibited partial paralysis, anxiety, the sensation of being suffocated, tremors, and convulsions. Freud’s opinion of its origin somewhat reflected those of his ancient Greek predecessors, who believed that women who have inadequate sex lives are prone to developing a “wandering womb” and should engage in Bacchanalian orgies and drink wine to return that womb to its proper place.” …

  2. Thanks for an interesting discussion. What gets me is that FND proponents don’t seem to realize how dualistic it sounds when they, for example, refer to FND as being at the “intersection” of mind and body or of psychiatry and neurology, or when they refer to themselves as a “neuropsychiatrist” or as a “psychiatrist” to differentiate themselves from e.g. being a “neurologist”, or vice versa. They often seem to talk in very dualistic language. Perhaps those who lecture on medical holism should instead refer to themselves as ‘doctors’ or ‘medics’ and drop their fancy job titles?

    I think they likely also miss the importance of separative classification as a useful/crucial scientific tool. Where would medical science have got to without the separation of one type of thing from another?

  3. Mike Fraumeni

    CT, I have read lately of what is known as property dualism, don’t know if you’ve heard of this. Diane O’Leary, a philosopher and bioethicist, has written extensively on dualism, discusses this briefly in this article and provides some historical context”
    “In this sense, dualism is no longer a dirty word – it doesn’t mean what it meant to Descartes, that we are made of two separate kind of stuff, a body and a soul. Property dualism suggests that while persons are physical substances, we have both physical properties and experiential properties. This makes it possible to have our cake and eat it too, to accept that persons have subjective experiences without giving up our commitment to science. In the end of the day, there’s really no way to understand medicine’s perspective on the whole person except through some form of property dualism.” … “For the great many people who suffer from diseases not readily diagnosed, bad philosophy is an obstacle to health, to safety, to pain relief, and to full participation in life.
    On a clinical level, the trouble with medicine’s approach to uncertainty seems obvious – and quite threatening. Even if there were just a few patients whose symptoms remain undiagnosed after clinical tests, disease is possible for all of those patients, so it is irresponsible to train doctors to assume the problem is psychosomatic. The fact is, though, that according to the NHS, an astonishing 50% of outpatients’ symptoms are medically unexplained. Purely on the basis of a philosophical misunderstanding, the NHS mistakenly classifies, and treats all of these symptoms as though they were psychiatric problems. Though half of the time patients’ conditions are undiagnosed, the NHS insists that instead of further medical inquiry, all of these patients need mental health support.” …
    Source: – Medicine’s bad philosophy threatens your health. Medicine has a mind-body problem –

  4. I imagine that that 50% figure for patients with unexplained symptoms comes from the much cited Nimnuan et al 2001 paper (that yielded a 52% figure) but it appears to be rarely mentioned that the misdiagnosis rates associated with that study were very high. Unfortunately, it looks to me as though UK doctors and healthcare commissioners may have been seriously misled about medically unexplained symptoms and I suspect that many patients are being wrongly directed to mental health services or given a mental health label/code as a result. Meanwhile, UK economists are scratching their heads as to why economic inactivity has risen in the UK due to health problems, especially poor mental health, but if a sizeable proportion of outpatients are having their physical health problems wrongly attributed to mental health issues, is it really any surprise if a lot of people are dropping out of the workforce with supposed mental health problems?

  5. Mike Fraumeni

    Well said CT. And along with this is this study which Mad in America discusses which I believe dovetails with the problem as you outline especially where you mention “but if a sizeable proportion of outpatients are having their physical problems wrongly attributed to mental health issues, is it really any surprise if a lot of people are dropping out of the workforce with supposed mental health problems:

    “Mental Health Awareness Campaigns May Actually Lead to Increases in Mental Distress —
    An article published in New Ideas in Psychology hypothesizes that mental health awareness efforts in Western countries may be partially responsible for the rise of mental health problems those countries are experiencing. Psychologists Lucy Foulkes from the University of Oxford in the UK and Jack Andrews from the University of New South Wales in Australia wrote the article.” …
    Source: Mad in America –

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