What Is Psychopathology?

Psychopathology is the origin of mental disorders, how they develop and their symptoms, Betty Rudd writes in her book, Introducing Psychopathology. The symptoms of an individual’s mental disorder are often referred to as their “psychopathology” in the same way that the symptoms of a disease or injury are referred to as their “pathology.” More relevant to social work, though, is the field of psychopathology — identifying and categorizing symptoms of mental disorders to provide better services and care to clients.

For years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been the preferred method of identifying and classifying psychological disorders. The fifth edition of the DSM is used to frame most discussion of modern psychopathology and is used to classify symptoms and disorders. The DSM breaks disorders into two broad categories: internalizing and externalizing. Internalizing psychopathology includes disorders such as depression, anxiety and phobias; externalizing psychopathology includes disorders like antisocial behavior and substance abuse.

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Psychopathology in Social Work

According to the National Association of Social Workers, 60 percent of mental health  professionals are clinically trained social workers. Social workers are often called on to provide mental healthcare in schools, rehabilitation programs, disaster relief efforts, community mental health programs, hospitals and other settings.

An estimated 18 percent of adults in the United States experience a mental disorder each year, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). In adults, serious mental illness that results in significant functional impairment occurs in 4.2 percent of the population. Social workers provide mental healthcare to many of these individuals.

The NIMH reports that only 13.4 percent of adults receive treatment for mental disorders; those who go without treatment often have low incomes, limited access to mental health insurance benefits and other obstacles that prevent them from receiving treatment. Given social workers’ focus on issues relating to poverty, they often provide assistance to underserved populations. Being able to recognize the symptoms of mental disorders and identify them allows social workers to perform the functions of their job more effectively.

Education in Psychopathology

Understanding psychopathology is crucial to effective social work. In the online Master of Social Work program from Campbellsville University, students gain the knowledge they need to provide quality care and services as social workers.