Welcome to the
Mental Automatisms information site

What are Mental Automatisms?

Mental Automatisms are a part of the larger group of Automatisms. Automatisms are the ‘automatic' functions of the nervous system. There are three main modalities of Automatisms: Sensory, Motor and Mental. Mental Automatisms pertain more specifically to intellectual functions such as thinking and memory. Automatic processes are natural and ubiquitous in that they allow for the basic normal and streamlined functions of the body without necessarily involving consciousness and awareness. The autonomic nervous system functions are Automatisms.

Where do they come from?

Naturally occurring Automatisms are functions that are built into the nervous system in its complex network connections of neurons. Those result from inborn patterns. Examples of those are the heart nodes which function autonomously. Others are based on newly acquired wiring of networks as seen in situations of learning, training, experiencing and adaptation. Automatisms are ‘programs'. There are those that are genetically based, out of the box pre-determined programs linked to the inborn networks of the nervous system. Others are secondarily acquired programs based on learning or the fact that Automatisms can evolve on their own.

Are Automatisms normal?

Yes for the most part because they are part of normal and optimal function of the nervous system. However, they can go astray and disconnect from normal function. When this occurs, the automatisms retain their autonomous nature, but become emancipated and tend to occur spontaneously, evolving and multiplying on their own.

What are some instances of normal and abnormal Automatisms?

Motor Automatisms: Motor reflexes are examples of Motor Automatisms. Aside from natural reflexes, some reflexes are learned reflexes or learned motor patterns which occur in training. When abnormal, they are the tics or catatonias, or the acquired reflex patterns which occur in post traumatic stress disorder.

Sensory Automatisms: Sensory Automatism are imprinted pattern recognitions of the five senses. When they run astray, they become the hallucinations.

Mental Automatisms: Because intellectual functions are highly complex and fine tuned processes, there are many chances or opportunities to malfunction and therefore a tendency for them to go astray. Curiously enough, ‘missteps' can occur in normal function which happens very frequently. They can occur as well in ‘sub-normal' situations such as mild inebriation or sleep deprivation. But they can also occur in a much more profound way in conditions of psychosis, drug intoxication or severe depression, just to name a few.

What is important in the notion of Automatism?

The importance of the notion of Automatism is the common ground between the normal and the abnormal functions because both are linked to the inherent nature of our nervous system. As for the observation and management of abnormal Automatisms, it is a symptom approach independent of diagnostic labels. It allows for a better understanding of many neurologic and psychiatric conditions. The notion of Automatism offers a continuum between the normal and abnormal and thus offers a preventive approach in mental health.

Where are Mental Automatisms found most?

Psychosis is where Mental Automatisms are most found. In fact, strayed Automatisms are the symptoms of psychosis. In psychosis, they are found in abundance and high frequency. Clerambault, a French Alienist, described and catalogued them. There are some eighty distinct Automatisms. If psychosis represents the extreme, Automatisms are found in many other conditions such as depression, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders or obsessive compulsive disorders. Studying psychosis through the perspective of Automatism allows for a fuller understanding of many conditions where Automatisms are found.


Paul Hriso MD
Copyright@ Hermes Whispers Press 2014

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