Blogs: Our Minds: The Final Frontier

The mental health field is a tangle of theories and approaches. What will win out?

By PT Staff, published on September 3, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

How will our understanding of human behavior, mental illness, and the mind be different in 20 years? PT bloggers ( share their predictions for what’s in store for psychologists and patients of the future.

Personalized Therapy

The biggest change on the horizon is our ability to understand individual differences. Advances in genetics and in measures of functional brain physiology are giving us tools to understand why people differ from each other in their cognitive and emotional experiences. This understanding will allow us to tailor learning strategies and behavior change techniques to individuals.—Art Markman, Ph.D., Ulterior Motives

No Shame

There will be more honesty about struggles with mental health. Treatment will be easier to access, and seeking it will be less stigmatized. There may be greater scientific understanding of the causes of mental illness and what we can do to intervene early.—Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Holistic Thinking

We will more consistently look at the whole person in the context of family, society, culture, and relationships—not just the part that needs “fixing.” —Kimberly Sena Moore, Your Musical Self

Back to Basics

The pendulum will swing from the current model of biological determinism to an awareness of how the social environment (family, relationships, work, culture) affects mood, behavior, and motivation. Commonsense explanations will once again take hold in psychology and psychiatry, and the curative power of the psychologist-patient relationship, which has a history that dates back to Socrates, will become prominent once again. —Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., Suffer the Children

Beyond Behavior

In the past, scientists could only observe behavior, but now we have the technology to actually watch the brain at work and correlate behavior to cerebral processes. This has revealed that unconscious processes are far more influential in our behavior than previously believed. In the next 20 years, further technological breakthroughs will shed light on the origins of mental illness and human behavior in the largely unconscious processes of the brain, helping us understand ourselves as never before. —Leonard Mlodinow, Ph.D., Subliminal


New technologies will change how we conduct research, but even more interesting is how our more mundane, day-to-day interactions with technology will shed light on basic human processes. Understanding how people engage with social media and the ways our shrunken globe shapes cross-cultural tendencies will offer new contexts for studying human nature. —Sam Sommers, Ph.D., Science of Small Talk

Playing by the Rules

For psychology to have a future, psychologists will need to eschew cheating in their applications of the scientific method: no data massaging, no cherry-picking studies, no pretending research maybe sorta shows causality when the data are basically correlational. —Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D., The Flip Side

The End of Therapy?

Psychotherapy today is on its deathbed, beset by hostility from all sides—a victim of managed care, life-coaching, psychics, economics, poor public relations, internecine sniping, and the ascent of psychiatry. Psychotherapy could soon become something students read about in history books rather than something they aspire to practice. —Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., Evil Deeds