Rendering mental disorders intelligible: addressing psychiatry's urgent challenge

Paul R. McHugh

in Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry II

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199642205
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754777 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Rendering mental disorders intelligible: addressing psychiatry's urgent challenge

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This essay has argued that psychiatric practice needs a more intelligible grasp of mental disorders than that provided now by the DSM. Its “agnostic” strictly denotative approach to mental disorders, which may have served a pacifying purpose when proposed 30 years ago, is now at the root of a growing set of problems within the discipline that will not improve until the issues of cause and nature of mental disorders start to be resolved.

The time is right to propose that psychiatric disorders now be classified by DSM in a more connotative and intelligible way such that those with similar generative derivations (localization and process) are clustered together in a fashion analogous to that employed by medical classifiers.

Such an official act would encourage psychiatrists to elucidate, distinguish, formulate and treat patients not simply according to some recipe tied to the diagnosis assigned and the “criteria” those patients “meet,” but according to what is the nature of the problems the diagnosis reveals and the therapies are aiming to correct. Psychiatrists would come to know and teach how fundamental natural differences amongst mental disorders make sense of who is a patient, what is psychopathology and ultimately what is meant by “normal” in human mental life and behavior. Then this clinical discipline will truly “come of age.”

Chapter.  4890 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry

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