The meanings of psychopathology

Giovanni Stanghellini
Current Opinion in Psychiatry 2009, 22 (6): 559-64

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The scope of the present review is to criticize the trivial meanings of 'psychopathology' and re-examine its technical meanings and the role that psychopathology as the discipline that studies abnormal mental phenomena can play in today's clinical practice and research, and in the conceptualization of mental disorders.

RECENT FINDINGS: I will first describe and discuss the way the term 'psychopathology' is mainly used in current psychiatric literature. This meaning, I will argue, is trivial. Then, I will move on to its technical meanings, including three classic sub-areas: descriptive, clinical and structural psychopathology, stemming from the studies of Karl Jaspers, Kurt Schneider and the phenomenological movement in psychiatry.

SUMMARY: I will address the meanings of the term 'psychopathology' in current literature and contrast it with its meanings in continental 20th century tradition. The relevance of the discipline of psychopathology for psychiatry is three-fold: it is the common language that allows psychiatrists to understand each other; it is the basis for diagnosis and classification; it makes an indispensable contribution to understanding the patients' personal experiences.

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