What is Psychopathology?

Psychopathology is, in itself, an extraordinarily broad sub-field of psychology. However, it’s one in which anyone interested in the development of mental disorders, and the interaction of various life factors in that development, should pursue. It incorporates evaluations of social and psychological factors as well as organic or biological roots in the study of psychological issues. In the article below, we’ll explore what this sub-discipline is and how researchers are utilizing its insights to assist individuals with a variety of psychological complications.

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Science and Its Uses in Psychology

While much of the world came to accept the use and exploration of science as a means to understand physical phenomena, psychological disorders were classified by different methods until the 20th century. For hundreds of years, demonic possession or disharmony of the bodily humors were dominant explanatory realms, leading to mistreatment of individuals with legitimate disorders and a host of harmful pseudo-remedies.

In 1913, Karl Jaspers applied scientific principals to the study of mental disturbances or disorders. While Freud precedes him by several decades in the related exploratory field of psychoanalysis, Jaspers’ methods are the first legitimate application of science and scientific exploration in psychiatry or psychology. Freud was mainly influenced by classical philosophy and concepts such as the harmony of body, mind, and spirit. Hence, his approach to psychoanalysis is now widely regarded as flawed and biased if not entirely incorrect.

Rather than a philosophical lens, Jaspers’ use of empirical observation and the concepts of inductive reasoning first popularized by Sir Francis Bacon gave rise to what we now know as psychopathology. This field studies mental disorders in all their aspects—both as a linked progression or holistic system and the root disorders, biological deficiencies or causes, and mechanisms of interactive human sociability. Practitioners parse observations and conduct recursive comparisons between individuals and collected bodies of data.

Diagnostic Criteria and Analysis

Both psychiatrists and clinical psychologists utilize this field of inquiry and rely on a suite of intellectual and scientific tools to assess the mental states of their patients or groups under observation. Before a clinical practitioner can make a confident diagnosis of mental illness, they must evaluate evidence based on established themes. First, is the behavior deviant according to the cultural context of the patient? Second, does the patient express or experience discomfort or anxiety caused by the actions associated with the prospective illness? Third, is the patient’s ability to function within their culture or perform expected activities substantially impaired? Finally, do they pose a danger to themselves or others?

Over the past century, observations and empirically verified disorders, as well as their symptoms, have been collected. They are published as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, editions one through five. It’s important to note that this catalog includes behaviors or progressions associated with or diagnostic of illness under the umbrella of a psychological pathology, not just the disease itself or its definite diagnosis. It also differentiates between mood or emotional disorders, which may have psycho-social roots or organic origins, and disorders such as schizophrenia, which has been classified as an organic or biological disorder.

While it is still evolving, with practitioners refining their tools of inquiry further each year, the field is one of the most practical and beneficial ways to explore psychological disorders in both populations and individuals. Psychopathology represents the most promising way for scientists to fully understand the function and dysfunction of human beings in a complex, dynamic cultural environment, and as such is as fascinating as it is essential to the field of psychology and other, related human sciences.