Debate Among the Students in Kendler’s Dialogue

In “A Psychiatric Dialogue on the Mind-Body Problem” article, Kendler (2001) presents the review of different perspectives on the problem of mind and body interaction in the context of psychotherapy. The dialogue between the Teacher and three students, Mary, Doug, and Francine, shows the discussion of three theories, including materialism, dualism, and functionalism. It seems that the arguments provided by Doug are more convincing compared to other mentioned perspectives.

The mind-body debate refers to the extent to which mind and body impact a person’s behaviors. In broad terms, the mind involves thoughts, mental processes, and consciousness, while the body is about neurons and physical issues. In this article, Doug speaks about dualism as the theory that implies an important role of both body and mind. This student argues that depression often results from a patient’s relationships with family, which shape negative perceptions and feelings. Doug supports his statements with the intention of understanding and correcting one’s emotions and behaviors. Based on opposing the biological reductionism, Doug claims that psychiatry should be humanistic and consider the bidirectional interaction between material and mental aspects. Indeed, it is not acceptable to limit psychotherapy to the review of serotonin or dopamine levels that drive one’s life. Another convincing argument is that dualism explains the everyday patterns and ways people behave and communicate with others. The key contribution of dualism is the awareness that body controls brain, but brain also impacts body, which creates complex interactions to be discussed during sessions.

In turn, Mary focuses on materialism, believing that the material world is the only driver of consciousness. According to this student’s theory, the brain controls the mind and impacts a person’s decisions. In other words, materialism assumes that none of the mental processes are causal for one or another behavior or feeling. On the one hand, this theory seems to be quire radical as it eliminates the very importance of the mind as the issue that can control one’s life. On the other hand, Mary suggests that the mind and the brain can be one substance that works as a single mechanism. This point seems to be rational even though the brain and the mind look as different issues. The counterargument to materialism’s ideas is that every person can have his or her unique approach to reality, which means that common interpretations are not acceptable.

The theory of functionalism is proposed by Francine, who states that the mind is not a thing but a process that has certain functions. Functionalism is not concerned with the biology of psychiatric disorders and dualism of their expressions. The comparison of the brain and mind with a computer is a good example that focuses on various functions to be performed. In this connection, the human body is hardware that is connected with the mind – software. This theory prioritizes that some mental outcomes cannot be viewed at the physical level. For example, one cannot observe how ions cross the membranes, but it is evident that they are the consequence of the body’s functions. However, there is a risk of giving excessive attention to functional issues, while disregarding the so-called organic aspects likewise in case of materialism. Therefore, it seems that functionalism should be explored in future theoretical and practical studies to better understand the nature of this perspective in the context of the mind-brain problem.


Kendler, Kenneth S. 2001. “A Psychiatric Dialogue on the Mind-Body Problem.” American Journal of Psychiatry 158 (7): 989-1000.

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