Mental Health Disorders: A Scientific Perspective


Saturday, May 13th,  12 noon - 2pm
First Unitarian Universalist Church
1000 Blanton Avenue - Richmond, VA 23221
Please register here to reserve your free seat(s)



Join us the day before Mother's Day as Arnold Woodruff, Mark Reimers, Candace Gorham, and Andy Thomson discuss some of the science related to mental health disorders.  We'll cover a range of issues including:

  • what we know & what we don't
  • problems with the current standards of care
  • medication versus other modalities
  • emerging techniques for both diagnosis and treatment
  • what do evolution in general and evolutionary psychology in particular have to say about normal and impaired mental health?
  • how do genetics and epigenetics fit into the picture?
  • cross-cultural insights?
  • anything to learn from other species?
  • risk factors - some surprising, some not - and what they imply

Please bring your own questions and take advantage of the expertise we'll have on hand as we take another look into the complex realm of mental health.  

You can find some resources here (thanks to Arnold Woodruff for providing these)

About the speakers

Mark Reimers

Dr. Mark Reimers studies brain function by applying statistics and computational methods to the very large data sets now being generated in neuroscience and genomics. In particular he tries to understand how brain dynamics changes between different activities and states of mind. Dr. Reimers has worked at the National Institutes of Health, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric Genetics in Richmond. 

Dr. Reimers was the leader of the Richmond Humanists in Virginia for five years 2009-2014, and is now a frequent speaker at humanist and popular science events in Michigan.


Arnold Woodruff, LMFT

Arnold Woodruff is mostly retired after a 45 year career working primarily in public mental health and child welfare settings. His experiences include two stints working in state mental hospitals, the director of a community mental health clinic and director of a Federal grant providing mental health services to children and adolescents. Currently, Arnold maintains a very small private practice and a somewhat larger practice of providing clinical supervision to individuals seeking licensing as marriage and family therapists. He is currently Treasurer for the National Alliance for Mental Illness – Central Virginia and is on the Advisory Committee for St. Joseph’s Villa.


At the beginning of his professional career, working in a state mental hospital in Illinois, Arnold was supportive of the seemingly miraculous impact of psychoactive medications in damping the symptoms of mental illnesses. As his experience and his knowledge of research expanded, he became somewhat disabused of the efficacy of a strictly biological model for understanding and treating serious mental illnesses. His training in family therapy stressed a focus of the context within which behaviors occur and deemphasized a focus on the individual. With more recent research pointing to a rather small role for genetics and no evidence for biochemical imbalances as explanatory for the creation of mental disorders, Arnold has shifted his focus to attempting to understand problem behaviors from more of a public health perspective. This emphasizes the impacts of both environmental trauma and more individual trauma, cultural factors such as poverty, racism, sexism as highly contributory to the generation of disturbing behaviors and the iatrogenic impacts of a treatment system that continues to rely on biological and reductionistic factors for developing interventions. While still seeing a potential role for drugs as a part of the treatment package, he is focused more on cultural and interpersonal factors for developing systems of care for persons diagnosed with serious emotional problems.


Candace Gorham

Candace received her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from North Carolina Central University. She received her Master’s degree in mental health counseling from Wake Forest University. Candace’s religious background is varied, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Methodist. At 18, she joined a very charismatic ministry during which time she was ordained as an evangelist, prophetess, and elderess. Becoming involved in and leading extremist activities such as casting out demons, fasting for weeks at a time and faith healing, Candace was a believer’s believer. She worked hard to be the minister, wife, and mother that she believed god had planned her to be. When real world problems were overwhelming her, she tried even harder to win god’s approval and blessing. Suffering with major depression to the point of being suicidal and facing severe financial hardships, Candace thought that she must have been doing something wrong. She dove into studying the Bible more than ever before. She became disillusioned with the contradictions and blatant errancy she found. Mounting questions regarding the similarities between Jesus and other god legends before him, the nature of god, and concepts of hell and evil were just a few of the issues that caused her to eventually decide that she could no longer believe in a deity. From a place of empathy and compassion, Candace decided to start the Ebony Exodus Project which aims to highlight the harmful effects of religion on all believers, but especially for black women. In addition to ongoing work as a counselor, Candace is a member of The Clergy Project and the Secular Therapist Project.


Andy Thomson, M.D.

Anderson Thomson, Jr., M.D.(Andy) is a psychiatrist in private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia and a staff psychiatrist both at Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Virginia Student Health Services and the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy. His private practice is oriented toward individual psychotherapy, forensic psychiatry, and medication consultation, and his current research interest is in the area of evolutionary psychology and using its principles to understand depression, resilience, suicide, suicide terrorism, and religious belief.

Dr. Thomson co-authored Facing Bipolar: The Young Adult’s Guide to Dealing with Bipolar Disorder with Russ Federman and Why We Believe In God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith with Clare Aukofer. Since 2008, he has had the privilege of serving as a trustee for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. For further information or copies of his work go to

Robert Penczak, M.D.

Rob is the Co-President of Greater Richmond Humanists, Co-Producer and Host of Road to Reason: A Skeptic's Guide to the 21st Century, and founder of SavedByScience - and Rob will be moderating this discussion.