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Psychopathology[a] is the scientific study of mental disorders, including efforts to understand their genetic, biological, psychological, and social causes; effective classification schemes (nosology); course across all stages of development; manifestations; and treatment. The term may also refer to the manifestation of behaviors that indicate the presence of a mental disorder.

The word psychopathology has a Greek origin: 'psyche' means "soul", 'pathos' is defined as "suffering", and 'logos' is "the study of". Wholly, psychopathology is defined as the origin of mental disorders, how they develop, and the symptoms they might produce in a person.


Early explanations for mental illnesses were influenced by religious belief and superstition. Psychological conditions that are now classified as mental disorders were initially attributed to possessions by evil spirits, demons, and the devil. This idea was widely accepted up until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Individuals who suffered from these so-called "possessions" were tortured as treatment.[] Doctors used this technique in hoping to bring their patients back to sanity. Those who failed to return to sanity after torture were executed.[1][unreliable source?]

The Greek physician Hippocrates was one of the first to reject the idea that mental disorders were caused by possession of demons or the devil. He firmly believed the symptoms of mental disorders were due to diseases originating in the brain. Hippocrates suspected that these states of insanity were due to imbalances of fluids in the body. He identified these fluids to be four in particular: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm.[2]

Furthermore, not far from Hippocrates, the philosopher Plato would come to argue the mind, body, and spirit worked as a unit. Any imbalance brought to these compositions of the individual could bring distress or lack of harmony within the individual. This philosophical idea would remain in perspective[vague] until the seventeenth century.[1]

In the eighteenth century's Romantic Movement, the idea that healthy parent-child relationships provided sanity became a prominent idea. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau introduced the notion that trauma in childhood could have negative implications later in adulthood.[1]

In the nineteenth century, greatly influenced by Rousseau's ideas and philosophy, Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud would bring about psychotherapy and become the father of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Talking therapy would originate from his ideas on the individual's experiences and the natural human efforts to make sense of the world and life.[1]

As the study of psychiatric disorders

The scientific discipline of psychopathology was founded by Karl Jaspers in 1913. It was referred to as "static understanding" and it's purpose was to graphically recreate the "mental phenomenon" experienced by the client. [3]

Professions outside of psychology study mental disorders. It's important to know Psychiatrists and Psychologists (specifically clinical) specify their profession in the study and treatment of mental disorders They also conduct research on the causation of mental disorders and the development of these mental states. [4] An individual who has a profession different than psychology may still have specialties specific to psychopathology and therefore can also be acknowledged as a psychopathologist. For example, a neuroscientist may inspect brain activity in association with mental illness. [5]

Psychiatrists are interested in descriptive psychopathology because it describes the symptoms and disorders of mental illness. It is useful for both the diagnosis process of patients and the creation of diagnostic systems, for example the DSM which is the most common diagnostic system because it clearly lists what characteristics help define a certain diagnosis and how an individual's experiences and behaviours should be categorized together in certain diagnoses. [6]

Before diagnosing a psychological disorder, clinicians must study the themes, also known as abnormalities, within psychological disorders. The most prominent themes consist of: deviance, distress, dysfunction and danger. These themes are known as the four Ds, which define abnormality.

The four Ds

A description of the four Ds when defining abnormality:

  1. Deviance: this term describes the idea that specific thoughts, behaviours and emotions are considered deviant when they are unacceptable or not common in society. Clinicians must, however, remember that minority groups are not always deemed deviant just because they may not have anything in common with other groups. Therefore, we define an individual's actions as deviant or abnormal when their behaviour is deemed unacceptable by the culture they belong to. However, many disorders have a relation between patterns of deviance and therefore need to be evaluated in a differential diagnostic model. [7]
  2. Distress: this term accounts for negative feelings by the individual with the disorder. They may feel deeply troubled and affected by their illness. Behaviors and feelings that cause distress to the individual or to others around him or her are considered abnormal, if the condition is upsetting to the person experiencing it. Distress is related to dysfunction by being a useful asset in accurately perceiving dysfunction in an individual's life. These two are not always related because an individual can be highly dysfunctional and at the same time experiencing minimal stress. One should know the important characteristic of distress is not involved with dysfunction, but rather the limit to which an individual is stressed by an issue. [8]
  3. Dysfunction: this term involves maladaptive behaviour that impairs the individual's ability to perform normal daily functions, such as getting ready for work in the morning, or driving a car. This maladaptive behaviour has to be a problem large enough to be considered a diagnosis. It's highly noted to look for dysfunction across an individual's life experience because there is a chance the dysfunction may appear in clear observable view and in places where it is less likely to appear. [9] Such maladaptive behaviours prevent the individual from living a normal, healthy lifestyle. However, dysfunctional behaviour is not always caused by a disorder; it may be voluntary, such as engaging in a hunger strike.
  4. Danger: this term involves dangerous or violent behaviour directed at the individual, or others in the environment. The two important characteristics of danger is, danger to self and danger to others. When diagnosing, there is a large vulnerability of danger in which there is some danger in each diagnosis and within these diagnosis there is a continuum of severity. [10] An example of dangerous behaviour that may suggest a psychological disorder is engaging in suicidal activity. Behaviors and feelings that are potentially harmful to an individual or the individuals around them are seen as abnormal.

As mental symptoms

The term psychopathology may also be used to denote behaviors or experiences which are indicative of mental illness, even if they do not constitute a formal diagnosis. For example, the presence of a hallucination may be considered as a psychopathological sign, even if there are not enough symptoms present to fulfill the criteria for one of the disorders listed in the DSM or ICD.

In a more general sense, any behaviour or experience which causes impairment, distress or disability, particularly if it is thought to arise from a functional breakdown in either the cognitive or neurocognitive systems in the brain, may be classified as psychopathology. It remains unclear how strong the distinction between maladaptive traits and mental disorders actually is,[11][12]e.g. neuroticism is often described as the personal level of minor psychiatric symptoms.[13]

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is an official guideline for the diagnosis of psychological disorders. It serves as reference for a range of professionals in the field of health and mental health. These professionals include psychologists, counselors, physicians, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.[14]

Examples of mental disorders classified within the DSM include:

  • Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder defined by symptoms of loss of motivation, decreased mood, lack of energy and thoughts of suicide.
  • Bipolar disorders are mood disorders characterized by depressive and manic episodes of varying lengths and degrees.
  • Dysthymia is a mood disorder similar to depression. Characterized by a persistent low mood, dysthymia is a less debilitating form of depression with no break in ordinary functioning.
  • Schizophrenia is characterized by altered perception of reality, including delusional thoughts, hallucinations, and disorganized speech and behaviour. Most cases arise in patients in their late teens or early adulthood, but can also appear later on in life.[15]
  • Borderline personality disorder occurs in early adulthood for most patients; specific symptoms include patterns of unstable and intense relationships, chronic feelings of emptiness, emotional instability, paranoid thoughts, intense episodes of anger, and suicidal behavior.[16]
  • Bulimia nervosa "binge and purge", an eating disorder specified as reoccurring episodes of uncontrollable binge eating followed by a need to vomit, take laxatives, or exercise excessively. Usually begins occurring at adolescence but most individuals do not seek help until later in life when it can be harder to change their eating habits.[17]
  • Phobias Found in people of all ages. Characterized by an abnormal response to fear or danger. Persons diagnosed with Phobias suffer from feelings of terror and uncontrollable fear, exaggerated reactions to danger that in reality is not life-threatening, and is usually accompanied by physical reactions related to extreme fear: panic, rapid heartbeat, and/or shortened breathing.[18]
  • Pyromania this disorder is indicated by fascination, curiosity, or attraction to purposely setting things on fire. Pyromaniacs find pleasure and/or relief by watching things burn. Can occur due to delusional thinking, impaired judgement due to other mental disorders, or simply as aggressive behavior to express anger.[19]

DSM/RDoc debate

Some scholars have argued that field should switch from the DSM categorical approach of mental disorders to the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) dimensional approach of mental disorders, although the consensus at present is to retain DSM for treatment, insurance, and related purposes, while emphasizing RDoC conceptualizations for planning and funding psychiatric research. [20][21]

See also



  1. ^ To provide a richer understanding of what is meant by psychopathology, particularly the phenomonelogy (internal experience) of those afflicted with a mental disorder, consider the word's etymology. Psychopathology is derived from three roots: (1) psyche (noun), from Ancient Greek ? (psukh?, "soul, breath, mind, life-breath, spirit"). (2) pathos (noun), from Ancient Greek , which is from (paskh?, "I feel, suffer"), and in this context means a condition or state in which the individual experiences pain, suffering, death, misfortune, or misery. (3) -ology (suffix), from Ancient Greek - -logia, the study of (see pathology). Psychopathology is the study and research of psychological disorders. A psychological disorder is the "(breakdown in cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning) within an individual associated with distress or impairment and a response that is not typical or culturally expected". Thus, psychopathology is the scientific study of a mental condition where the individual suffers significant pain and misery, even to the point that they feel as if their very "life-breath" (soul) is being damaged or sucked out of them.


  1. ^ a b c d Heffner, Christopher. "Chapter 9: Section 1: Psychopathology". AllPsych. Retrieved 2015. 
  2. ^ Hamshar, Mercedes. "The History of Psychopathology". Suite. Retrieved 2015. 
  3. ^ Häfner, Heinz (2015). "Descriptive psychopathology, phenomenology, and the legacy of Karl Jaspers". Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 17 (1): 19-29. Retrieved 2018. 
  4. ^ Shah, Dr Syed Ahmad; Mushtaq, Dr Shahnawaz; Naseer, Miss Naureen; Ahmad, Mr Aijaz; Sharma, Dr Gargi; Kovur, Harpreet (2017). A TEXT BOOK OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGY. RED'SHINE Publication. Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 9789386483201. 
  5. ^ Shah, Dr Syed Ahmad; Mushtaq, Dr Shahnawaz; Naseer, Miss Naureen; Ahmad, Mr Aijaz; Sharma, Dr Gargi; Kovur, Harpreet (2017). A TEXT BOOK OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGY. RED'SHINE Publication. Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 9789386483201. 
  6. ^ Hall, Ronald (2012). The Melanin Millennium: Skin Color as 21st Century International Discourse. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 40. ISBN 9789400746084. 
  7. ^ Davis, T (2009). "Conceptualizing Psychiatric Disorders Using "Four D's" of Diagnoses". The Internet Journal of Psychiatry. 1 (1): 1. Retrieved 2018. 
  8. ^ Davis, T (2009). "Conceptualizing Psychiatric Disorders Using "Four D's" of Diagnoses". The Internet Journal of Psychiatry. 1 (1): 2. Retrieved 2018. 
  9. ^ Davis, T (2009). "Conceptualizing Psychiatric Disorders Using "Four D's" of Diagnoses". The Internet Journal of Psychiatry. 1 (1): 2. Retrieved 2018. 
  10. ^ Davis, T (2009). "Conceptualizing Psychiatric Disorders Using "Four D's" of Diagnoses". The Internet Journal of Psychiatry. 1 (1): 2. Retrieved 2018. 
  11. ^ Jeronimus B.F.; Kotov, R.; Riese, H.; Ormel, J. (2016). "Neuroticism's prospective association with mental disorders halves after adjustment for baseline symptoms and psychiatric history, but the adjusted association hardly decays with time: a meta-analysis on 59 longitudinal/prospective studies with 443 313 participants". Psychological Medicine. 46 (14): 2883-2906. doi:10.1017/S0033291716001653. PMID 27523506. 
  12. ^ Ormel J, Laceulle OM, Jeronimus BF (2014). "Why Personality and Psychopathology Are Correlated: A Developmental Perspective Is a First Step but More Is Needed". European Journal of Personality. 28 (4): 396-98. doi:10.1002/per.1971. 
  13. ^ Ormel J.; Jeronimus, B.F.; Kotov, M.; Riese, H.; Bos, E.H.; Hankin, B. (2013). "Neuroticism and common mental disorders: Meaning and utility of a complex relationship". Clinical Psychology Review. 33 (5): 686-697. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2013.04.003. PMC 4382368 Freely accessible. PMID 23702592. 
  14. ^ "DSM". American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved 2015. 
  15. ^ "Understanding Schizophrenia". Retrieved 2015. 
  16. ^ "Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms". PsychCentral. Retrieved 2015. 
  17. ^ "Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms". PsychCentral. Retrieved 2015. 
  18. ^ "Phobias". American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved 2015. 
  19. ^ "Pyromania Symptoms". PsychCentral. Retrieved 2015. 
  20. ^ Casey, B J.; Craddock, Nick; Cuthbert, Bruce N.; Hyman, Steven; Lee, Francis S.; Ressler, Kerry J. (2013). "DSM-5 and RDoC: progress in psychiatry research?" (PDF). Nat Rev Neurosci. 14 (11): 5. 
  21. ^ Lupien, S. J.; Sasseville, M; Francois, N.; Giguere, C. E.; Boissonneault, J; Plusquellec, P; Godbout, R; Xiong, L; Potvin, S; Kouassi, E; Lesage, A; Signature Consortium (2017). "The DSM5/RDoC debate on the future of mental health research: implication for studies on human stress and presentation of the signature bank". 20 (1): 8. Retrieved 2018. 

Further reading

  • Atkinson, L et al. (2004). Attachment Issues in Psychopathology and Intervention. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Berrios, G.E.(1996) The History of Mental Symptoms: Descriptive Psychopathology since the 19th century. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43736-9
  • Freud, S (1916) The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. MacMillan.
  • Keating, D P et al. (1991). Constructivist Perspectives on Developmental Psychopathology and Atypical Development. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Maddux, J E et al. (2005). Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • McMaster University. (2011). Psychological disorders. In Discover psychology (pp. 154-155, 157-158, 162-164) [Introduction]. Toronto, ON: Nelson Education.
  • Sims, A. (2002) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology (3rd ed). Elsevier. ISBN 0-7020-2627-1
  • Widiger, T A et al. (2000). Adult Psychopathology: Issues and Controversies. Annual Review of Psychology.

External links

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