Psychopathology is a term which refers to either
- the study of mental illness or mental distress
- the manifestation of behaviours and experiences which may be indicative of mental illness or psychological impairment.
It is also the name of an academic journal that specialises in the understanding and classification of mental illness in clinical psychiatry.
Psychopathology as the study of mental illness
Many different professions may be involved in studying mental illness or distress. Most notably, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are particularly interested in this area and may either be involved in clinical treatment of mental illness, or research into the origin, development and manifestations of such states, or often, both. More widely, many different specialties may be involved in the study of psychopathology. For example, a neuroscientist may focus on brain changes related to mental illness. Therefore, someone who is referred to as a psychopathologist, may be one of any number of professions who have specialised in studying this area.
Psychiatrists in particular are interested in descriptive psychopathology, which has the aim of describing the symptoms and syndromes of mental illness. This is both for the diagnosis of individual patients (to see whether the patient's experience fits any pre-existing classification), or for the creation of diagnostic systems (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which define exactly which signs and symptoms should make up a diagnosis, and how experiences and behaviours should be grouped in particular diagnoses (e.g. clinical depression, schizophrenia).
Psychopathology as a descriptive term
The term psychopathology may also be used to denote behaviours or experiences which are indicative of mental illness, even if they do not constitute a formal diagnosis. For example, the presence of an hallucination may be considered as a psychopathological sign, even if there are not enough symptoms present to fulfill the criteria for one of the disorders listed in the DSM.
In a more general sense, any behaviour or experience which causes impairment, distress or disability, particularly if it is thought to arise from a functional breakdown in either the cognitive or neurocognitive systems in the brain, may be classified as psychopathology.
The academic journal 'Psychopathology'
Originally founded in 1897 and named Psychiatria Clinica, the journal changed its name to Psychopathology in 1984. It bills itself as the 'International journal of experimental psychopathology, phenomenology and psychiatric diagnosis' and aims to 'elucidate the complex interrelationships of biology, subjective experience, behavior and therapies'.
- Sims, A. (2002) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology (3rd ed). Elsevier. ISBN 0702026271
- Psychopathology journal by Karger Publishers