What is Psychopathology?

The term "psychopathology" simply refers to the scientific study of mental illness, along with the factors which may contribute or be relevant to such disorders.

Causes of mental disorders may fall under various categories such as psychological, social or genetic. The field also examines mental conditions across the lifespan, developmental stages and manifestations, examining the treatments that are effective in treating various manifestations.

The determination of mental health conditions is guided by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which identifies the criteria that must be present in order for mental health practitioners to come to a specific diagnosis.

More About the Study of Mental Disorders

Karl Jaspers is credited with the founding of this field as a scientific discipline in 1913. Professionals who study the concepts involved in this discipline today are primarily clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. These mental health practitioners approach their work in various ways. they may focus on treatment of patients who are dealing with forms of mental illness or they may take a research approach in order to dissect the causes, development and manner in which such conditions can manifest themselves in the lives of individuals. Some may practice both treatment and research.

Making a Diagnosis

When it comes to making a diagnosis, there are four themes, or abnormalities, that are considered. These themes are known as "The Four D's." They are deviance, distress, dysfunction and anger. These four criteria define the concept of abnormality. Deviance refers to those behaviors, thoughts and emotions that are seen as unacceptable in a society or group. Distress is the negative feeling one has in response to their own disorder. Dysfunction is anything that causes a behavior that causes an individual to be unable to perform daily functions needed to live a productive lifestyle. Danger refers to a kind of behavior exhibited that indicates the presence of a mental illness.

Types of Disorders

The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, guides practitioners in the identification and treatment of psychological disorders. In order to be considered a disorder, a problem must occur within an individual and be something the individual cannot control. There are numerous disorders listed within the guide. Some of the more common include:

  • Bipolar Disorders – mood disorders involving both manic and depressive episodes
  • Major Depressive Disorder – a mood disorder characterized by lack of energy, decreased mood, loss of motivation and thoughts of suicide
  • Borderline Personality Disorder – patterns of unstable relationships, paranoid thoughts, emotional instability and intense outburst of anger
  • Schizophrenia – altered perception of reality, hallucinations and delusional thoughts observed in this disorder
  • Phobias – involve excessive reactions to perception of danger

This list is not comprehensive, but shows a sample of conditions and their symptoms that can be found in the DSM. Psychopathology is a broad, encompassing study of how mental health disorders are identified by professionals and manifested within individuals.

Related Resource: What is the Best Degree for Mental Health Professionals?