Psychopathology is a term which refers to either the study of mental illness or mental distress, or the manifestation of behaviours and experiences which may be indicative of mental illness or psychological impairment, such as abnormal, maladaptive behavior or mental activity.
It is also the name of an academic journal that specialises in the understanding and classification of mental illness in clinical psychiatry.
Psychopathology as the study of mental illness
Many different professions may be involved in studying mental illness or distress. Most notably, psychiatrists
and clinical psychologists
are particularly interested in this area and may either be involved in clinical treatment of mental illness, or research into the origin, development and manifestations of such states, or often, both. More widely, many different specialties may be involved in the study of psychopathology. For example, a neuroscientist
may focus on brain
changes related to mental illness. Therefore, someone who is referred to as a psychopathologist
, may be one of any number of professions who have specialized in studying this area.
Psychiatrists in particular are interested in descriptive psychopathology, which has the aim of describing the symptoms and syndromes of mental illness. This is both for the diagnosis of individual patients (to see whether the patient's experience fits any pre-existing classification), or for the creation of diagnostic systems (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which define exactly which signs and symptoms should make up a diagnosis, and how experiences and behaviours should be grouped in particular diagnoses (e.g. clinical depression, schizophrenia).
Psychopathology should not be confused with psychopathy, which is a type of personality disorder.
Psychopathology as a descriptive term
The term psychopathology
may also be used to denote behaviours 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
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 and neurocognitive systems in the brain, may be classified as psychopathology.
The academic journal Psychopathology
Originally founded in 1897
and named Psychiatria Clinica
, the journal changed its name to Psychopathology
. It bills itself as the 'International journal of experimental psychopathology, phenomenology and psychiatric diagnosis' and aims to 'elucidate the complex interrelationships of biology, subjective experience, behavior and therapies'.
- Atkinson, L et al (2004). Attachment Issues in Psychopathology and Intervention. Lawrence Erlbaum.
- 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.
- Widiger, T A et al (2000). Adult Psychopathology: Issues and Controversies. Annual Review of Psychology. This review discusses issues and controversies with respect to the construct of a mental disorder, models of etiology and pathology, and domains of psychopathology. Fundamental to the science of psychopathology is a conceptualization of mental disorder, yet inadequate attention is being given to the differentiation of normal and abnormal psychological functioning in current research. The boundaries between mental and physical disorders are equally problematic. Neurophysiological models are receiving particular emphasis in large part because of the substantial progress being made in documenting and clarifying the important role of neurophysiological structures and mechanisms in etiology and pathology. However, this attention might be at the expense of the recognition of equally valid psychological models. Problematic diagnostic boundaries are also considered, including those within and between different classes of disorder.
- Sims, A. (2002) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology (3rd ed). Elsevier. ISBN 0-7020-2627-1
- Berrios, G.E.(1996) "The History of Mental Symptoms: Descriptive Psychopathology since the 19th century". Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43736-9