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What Is Psychopathology?

Psychopathology is the study of mental illnesses and disorders, like multiple personality disorder.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Psychopathology is an interesting term that is frequently inaccurately defined as the study of psychopaths. While the term might include the study and descriptions of manifestation of mental illness among some psychopathic or sociopathic people, it is by no means limited to this. It is the study of what are called mental illnesses or disorders, and it is also what emerges as these disorders appear in the individual. For instance, a person with certain characteristics like manic and depressed states might have a psychopathology (group of symptoms) indicative of bipolar disorder, or other psychopathologies might be suggested with addition of other symptoms.

The description of mental illnesses is usually found in places like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). With study through this book and in clinical practice a lot of mental health professionals are able to diagnose certain mental diseases because of description. This description is part of psychopathology since intense study of mental health illnesses tends to result in being able to describe the general characteristics of each disease. Mental health professionals who are able to diagnose don’t start from scratch and are instead handed the results of the symptoms. They know what to look for due to previous research and findings of other professionals, just as most doctors diagnose certain diseases based on the findings of others.

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Presence of disease affecting mental processes doesn’t necessarily mean disease originates in the mind. Continued research on different forms of diseases that manifest mental symptoms suggests the continued work of the psychopathologist. Increasingly, evaluation of different body functions may point to causes of mental illnesses that occur elsewhere anatomically and might need different treatments than those specifically addressing neurotransmitters.

The other way in which the term is used as descriptive of mental disorders creates a common language for mental health practitioners who may share care of patients. Yet no practitioner can make a diagnosis unless symptoms manifest. The way in which symptoms manifest can be different with each mental disorder, and sometimes psychopathologies are immediately evident, while other times they may hard to observe at first. Having access to diagnostic manuals and possessing significant experience may make some practitioners better at diagnosis than others. Wrong diagnosis is not uncommon, since a number of mental conditions share similar psychopathological signs.

In one sense or another most mental health practitioners have some degree of regular contact with psychopathology. They may study it for a living or they may watch it appear in patients and be expected to diagnose it. The main critique of this area of healing tends to be when people study or view it as a rigid thing. Numerous volumes of the DSM have added new conditions, added additional symptoms for diagnosis, suggested different treatments, and upgraded or downgraded the severity in which certain pathologies are viewed. As with all other medicine, continued research in psychopathology yields new information and ideas all of the time, suggesting a fluid approach to the subject is more helpful.

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Discuss this Article

indigomoth
Post 4

@pleonasm - Environment often has a real role in mental illness. Food choices, chemical exposures and abuse can all contribute. It doesn't have to be purely genetic.

To be honest, they don't know what causes these sorts of disorders, or even how they really work from a biological standpoint. If they did know that, they would be able to use medication or even surgery to fix the problem.

pleonasm
Post 3

@pastanaga - I actually think they are finding more and more that many psychopathologies are the result of genetics rather than environment. I do think that modern environments can be very stressful for the human mind, but a true mental illness is not as common as people think. Being sad or stressed is not the same as having chronic depression, for example, and having mood swings does not mean you have bipolar disorder.

While environment does definitely play a role in these kinds of disorders, remember that a lot of people are subjected to the same environment and only a few of them react badly. To me, that means it isn't the environment that is to blame, but some other factor.

pastanaga
Post 2

It's an interesting field, as there are certainly no shortages of psychopathologies for people to study. I feel like the more people are subjected to the modern world, the more they tend to react badly to it, which makes me wonder if a huge chunk of this field is going to eventually be devoted to shaping the world around us so that we don't react in harmful ways.

anon95593
Post 1

Hi, this really helped me in my research. Thank you!

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