Dictionary of Psychopathology

May 28, 2009

Author: Henry Kellerman

Edition: First

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Pages: 296

Price: £56.95 and £19.95

ISBN 9780231146500 and 46517

Perhaps writing a dictionary of psychopathology was always going to be a challenge. After all, the discipline is a highly contested field, racked by unresolved disputes about fundamental issues: How can we distinguish between the normal and the abnormal? Is psychopathology best described by dimensional or categorical models? Is mental illness really illness? These disputes are not minor philosophical conundrums that can be safely ignored while focusing on more meaty issues. They are central to the discipline and, by their very nature, difficult to capture in simple definitions. Add to the mix the various different approaches adopted by researchers and clinicians, and the difficulty of compiling a list of useful definitions becomes obvious.

This challenge may have been better met if more space had been available to Henry Kellerman when compiling this slim volume. According to the preface, "this Dictionary of Psychopathology is shaped according to the needs of clinicians, academicians and researchers". However, I found it difficult to imagine any circumstances in which anyone - student or professional - would find it useful to seek out definitions of, say, mindfulness ("becoming aware of what you have previously done on automatic pilot by simply observing your emotions without getting caught up with them") or the Q-sort ("a multidimensional rating technique used in the evaluation of personality traits and attitudes, assessed through the comparison of several raters") that are so concise as to be almost meaningless.

In the case of schizophrenia, we are given a nine-line definition that gives most weight to Eugen Bleuler's 1911 formulation and fails to mention Kurt Schneider, followed by a long list of even more briefly defined subtypes, most of which are not recognised by modern researchers. Prevalence, age of onset and gender differences (all well understood) get no mention. There are no entries for negative symptoms, positive symptoms, the dopamine hypothesis (the most widely accepted biological theory of psychosis) or expressed emotion, all concepts extensively employed by modern psychopathologists, adding to a general impression that much of the material is outdated.

Kellerman describes himself as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. Hence, the dictionary has a strong bias towards including psychoanalytic terms but excluding material on cognitive-behaviour therapy, justified on the unconvincing grounds that "the cognitive behavioural archive is a younger dimension in the unearthing of the nature of psychopathology". This bias is reflected in the amount of space devoted to distinguished psychopathologists; incredibly, Kellerman uses 12 lines for an entry about himself but gives only 11 lines to Aaron Beck.

Who is it for? Students and mental health professionals of all disciplines and persuasions.

Presentation: Clearly laid out but many entries are outdated, too brief and sometimes misleading.

Would you recommend it? This dictionary is almost useless. It even fails on the secondary purpose sometimes asked of similar volumes, as it is too light to function as a doorstop.

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