Psychopathology: Definition, History, And Types
Awareness Health

Psychopathology: Definition, History, And Types


‘Psychopathology’ is a term used to address the abnormalities in the cognition, behavior, and experiences of individuals in terms of social norms. This term is used to describe the study of the nature of mental illnesses. This study includes many components concerning mental illness, including its causes, symptoms, categorization, and the development of treatment options. Mental illnesses are thoroughly studied so that professionals can deal with them effectively. These illnesses can result in disabling an individual from leading a normal and healthy lifestyle. Although spread across a wide range, some common symptoms are observed to be recurring in many mental disorders. These symptoms may include thoughts of self-harm, mood discrepancies, extreme distress, feeling fatigued, sleep disturbances, etc.

This article aims to give the reader a brief idea about psychopathology and its contents, further sparking their interest in exploring this field of study.

Read More: Understanding Abnormal Psychology

History of Psychopathology

Throughout the history of society, mental illnesses have constantly been scrutinized due to the stigma surrounding them. The true essence and the importance of mental health have just begun to be understood by people around. Knowing this, it isn’t surprising that mental illnesses were once characterized by religious and superstitious beliefs. In the early times, any behavior outside the societal ‘normal’ was believed to be a result of the influence of evil spirits, witches, or demons. As they believed that mentally ill people were possessed, these people had to suffer physical torture, or practices such as exorcism, in the disguise of treatment.

Confinement was also used as a method of punishment or to prevent these people from causing harm. This was nothing less than subjecting human beings to cruelty. A recent and famous instance of cruelty against humans with mental illness was the 2001 Erwadi Incident, where 28 inmates died in a mental asylum after being unsuccessful in escaping the fire as a result of being chained. Hippocrates, a Greek Physician, was the first to propose that mental illnesses were not a result of possession. He supported this idea with his theory that there are four different fluids in the human body, namely, blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. He said that mental illnesses are a result of the imbalance of these fluids in one’s body.

Further explanations and evolution of the causes mentioned were given by other philosophers and upcoming psychologists. The word ‘Psychopathology’ was first used by the Philosopher and Psychiatrist, Karl Jaspers, in his 1913 book “General Psychopathology”. His efforts were then followed as many set out to explore the meanings attached to the abnormal experiences of an individual. As research in psychopathology increased, laws came up in support of individuals suffering from mental illness. One such law is India’s Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.

4D’s of Psychopathology:

There is a very fine line between what can be classified as a mental illness and what cannot. Thus, while diagnosing an individual with a mental disorder, four areas of effect are taken into consideration. These are known as the 4 D’s of psychopathology.

  • Deviance: This area considers the behaviours and attitudes displayed by individuals and relates their appropriateness to societal norms. The presence of behaviour that violates these norms, such as compulsive rituals, demands professionals to take a look into the other three areas.
  • Distress: This area looks into negative feelings, like that of discomfort, being fostered in an individual. These negative feelings of anger, guilt, or sadness are present at an extreme level.
  • Dysfunction: This is characterized by the inability to perform daily tasks, such as getting out of bed or leaving the house due to many components, one of them being fear.
  • Danger: The final area of consideration, this looks at whether the abnormal behaviour in an individual can cause danger to themselves or the people around them. Danger does not have to be grievous for it to be a classifying factor.

Read More: 5 Popular Theories of Psychology

Diagnostic Systems in the Field

There are fixed and generalized criteria that have been finalized for professionals providing treatment to diagnose a mental disorder and identify the best course of treatment for it. Two systems are most used and followed worldwide for the diagnosis of mental illnesses.

  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): The American Psychological Association (APA) created the DSM for the sole purpose of assessment of mental illness. A long list of criteria for each disorder is provided in the book for use by mental health professionals to arrive at a specific diagnosis. The DSM 5-TR, released in 2022, is the current and latest version of the DSM that is being followed by all professionals in the field.
  2. International Classification of Diseases (ICD): This system was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The latest version of ICD is the ICD-11. Although DSM is followed worldwide, the credibility of ICD is strong since it originates from a global agency. The ICD-11 was approved by the World Health Assembly, which consisted of 193 Health Ministers from countries that are members of the WHO.

Read More: 15 Women psychologists Who made their contribution to the field


Psychopathology has become a broad field of study, contributing greatly to the promotion of mental health and dealing effectively with mental illness. Professionals in the field include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, criminologists, social workers, and counselors, among many others. The wide availability of professionals and their specialties represents just how broad psychopathology is, and the thriving professions display the need for it in the world. As research in the field continues and awareness is seeing growth, more people have started to acknowledge mental illnesses to be real and understand their severity. Further, baseless myths are losing their value. Normality and abnormality are not viewed as extreme ends anymore. Mental disorders are not seen to be lifetime illnesses. As a result of growing awareness, people have started to show empathy and support towards individuals with mental illness. As the field progresses, the world has seen a growth in human behavior towards mentally ill individuals. Government bodies have also taken up initiatives to support these people and stress their rights.

Read More: Awareness And Useful Solutions To Psychological Disorders

Read More: Comprehensive Insights into Mental Health & Mental Disorders

References +

Leave feedback about this

  • Rating