Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding

Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding

Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding

Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding

Synopsis

Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding is specifically designed to meet the needs of graduate students enrolled in a one semester course on abnormal psychology or psychopathology in master's or doctoral programs in clinical and counseling psychology and related fields such as social work. Neither an undergraduate abnormal text (though suitable for use in advanced courses that presuppose a basic abnormal course) handbook-style compendium for professionals and researchers, it synthesizes the latest knowledge about the etiology and treatment of the most important psychological disorders, and challenges students to reflect on such crucial and controversial issues as the definition of psychopathology, the influence of culture and gender, the validity of psychological testing and the viability and utility of traditional psychiatric diagnosis. The authors, all leading experts, throughout focus on what has been demonstrated by research, not on what has been claimed by theories that may be accepted or traditional but lack empirical support. The first section presents and analyzes the basic concepts we need to understand disorder; the second examines the disorders most frequently encountered in clinical practice. The editors have brought to their job a combined total of 47 years of teaching graduate students. Well-organized and clearly written, Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding is an invaluable new resource for instructors and students alike.

Excerpt

A textbook about a subject should begin with a clear definition of the subject. Unfortunately, in the case of a textbook on psychopathology, definition is difficult if not impossible. The definitions or conceptions of psychopathology and related terms such as mental disorder have been the focus of heated debate throughout the history of psychology and psychiatry, and the debate is far from over (e.g, Gorenstein, 1984: Horwitz, 2002; Widiger, 1997). Despite many variations, the debate has centered on a single overriding question—are psychopathology and related terms such as mental disorder and mental illness scientific terms that can be defined objectively and by scientific criteria or are they social constructions (Gergen, 1985) that are defined entirely by societal and cultural values? The goal of this chapter is to address this question. Addressing it early is important because readers'views of everything they read in the rest of this book will be influenced by their views on this question.

A conception of psychopathology is not a theory of psychopathology (Wakefield, 1992a). A conception of psychopathology provides one definition of the term—it delineates which human experiences are considered psychopathological and which are not. A conception of psychopathology does not try to explain the psychological phenomena that are considered pathological but instead tells us what psychological phenomena are considered pathological and thus need to be explained. A theory of psychopathology, however, provides an explanation of those psychological phenomena and experiences that have been identified by the conception as pathological. This chapter deals with conceptions of psychopathology. Theories and explanations can be found in a number of other chapters, including all of those in part II.

Understanding various conceptions of psychopathology is important for many reasons. As medical philosopher Lawrie Reznek (1987) said, “Concepts carry consequences—classifying things one way rather than another has important implications for the way we behave towards such things” (p. 1). In speaking of the importance of the conception of disease, Reznek wrote:

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