Does "Psychological Dysfunction" Mean Anything? A Critical Essay on Pathology Versus Agency.

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    • Abstract:
      Any effort to discuss or study psychopathology (by any name) must decide how to distinguish between psychopathology and narratively comprehensible reactions to adverse circumstances of life. A pathology framework, which views the distressed individual as acted on by impersonal forces, is incompatible with an agential framework, which views the individual as the protagonist in a unique story. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) recognizes this issue, it addresses it by postulating that "primary mental disorder" results from a "psychological dysfunction" and non-culturally sanctioned reactions to life events indicate mental disorder. In this essay, the authors examine whether the concept of "psychological dysfunction" can withstand an analogy to that of biological dysfunction. They also examine the DSM's view that "culture" has already prepared an official evaluation of any reaction to the vicissitudes of life. They conclude that the DSM has failed to convincingly distinguish between psychopathology and reactions to life's vicissitudes. They suggest that the DSM's insistence on separating people's feelings and actions from their own unique circumstances and context amounts to a moral, not scientific enterprise. The study of how people fare in living should abandon the concept of mental disorder and related terms. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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