Abnormality can be defined in a number of ways. However, in terms of psychological difficulties the term “abnormality,” or “psychopathology,” generally refers to a problematic pattern of thought, feeling, and/or behaviour that disrupts one's sense of wellness or functioning either socially or occupationally. A mental or psychological disorder involves a recognisable set of symptoms and signs that cause distress to the individual involved and impair their functioning (Burton, Westen, & Kowalski, 2015). The psychopathological signs and symptoms presented by an individual are “recognisable” when compared with various classification systems and thus are used to make a diagnosis.
There are two main classifications systems used to make mental health related diagnoses: the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association (5th ed.; DSM-5; 2013) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 2010 Edition (ICD-10) (World Health Organisation, 2011). An examination of the pros and cons of both classifications is beyond the scope of this handbook. Therefore, the DSM-5 will simply be described in terms of structure and use as this is the classification system that was focused on when structuring this handbook.
The DSM-5 is the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in use and outlines recognisable sets of symptoms and signs that distress individuals and impair their functioning, most often focused on for treatment and support. The DSM-5 itself presents material in sections, including background regarding the development of the DSM-5, with the bulk of material being related to the diagnostic criteria for the various disorders.
The DSM-5 provides applied clinicians with an organising framework as well as a common language regarding signs and symptoms and thus diagnoses that can assist communication and assist and guide research and treatment. The information presented in the DSM-5 includes how various cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioural signs and symptoms cluster together in the diagnoses described. The use of a diagnosis thus creates a shared understanding with other practitioners familiar with the diagnostic classification system used. Therefore, communication between practitioners is made more efficient.
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