A Constructivist Definition of Mental Disorder: A New Approach to Defining Psychopathology

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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is one of the most commonly used frameworks for diagnosing mental illness in the Western world, has grown out of a traditional bio-medical model. This model sees mental disorders as discrete entities which are characterised by the manifestation of particular sets of signs and symptoms. Following from this hypothesis is the idea that common disorders such as schizophrenia and depression are universal and are therefore similar across diverse populations. However, the cross-cultural literature paints a different picture; it reveals significant differences in the way that these disorders are experienced in various cultural groups. This suggests that the definition of mental disorder which forms the basis of the practice of clinical psychology and psychiatry in the West may be somewhat inadequate. In response to this hypothesised inadequacy a definition based on constructivist theory is proposed and it is argued that it has some advantages over traditional models of mental illness. The implications of a constructivist approach are discussed, including a possible modification to the traditional categorical model of psychopathology.


Keywords: Definition of Mental Disorder, Constructivism, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Stream: Psychology, Cognitive Science and Behavioural Sciences
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Joanne Thakker

Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychology, The University of Waikato
Hamilton, NZ, New Zealand

Jo Thakker is a clinical psychologist and Senior Lecturer in psychology at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her primary research areas are substance use and abuse, forensic psychology, environmental psychology and cultural psychology. She is also particularly interested in philosophy and theory and so frequently explores the fundamental theoretical issues in each of these areas.

Ref: I08P0872