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Psychological Disorders

What exactly is a psychological disorder? How is a psychological disorder diagnosed? Learn more about how clinicians define and classify mental disorders and discover how many people are impacted by such disorders every year.

What Is a Psychological Disorder?: A psychological disorder, also known as a mental disorder, is a pattern of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and/or create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms.

How are Psychological Disorders Diagnosed?: The classification and diagnosis is an important concern for both mental health providers and mental health clients. While there is no single, definitive definition of mental disorders, a number of different classification and diagnostic criteria have emerged. Clinicians utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV TR), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to determine whether a set of symptoms or behaviors meets the criteria for diagnosis as a psychological disorder. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-16), published by the World Health Organization, is also frequently used.
What Is the Purpose of Getting a Diagnosis?: While some people may avoid seeking a diagnosis out of fear of social stigma, getting a diagnosis is an essential part of finding an effective treatment plan. A diagnosis is not about applying a label to a problem, it is about discovering solutions, treatments and information related to the problem.
How Prevalent Are Psychological Disorders?: Relatively recent research has revealed that psychological disorders are far more prevalent that previously believed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 26 percent of American adults over the age of 18 suffer from some type of diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.The 1994 National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) indicated that 30 percent of respondents had experienced symptoms of at least one psychological disorder in the previous year. The survey also indicated that nearly half of all adults experience some form of mental disorder at some point in their life.
What Are the Different Types of Mental Disorders?: The DSM-IV TR describes approximately 250 different psychological disorders, most of which fall under a category of similar or related disorders. Some of the prominent diagnostic categories include eating disorders, mood disorders, somatoform disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and personality disorders.
Types of Therapy: The popular conception of therapy is that of the classic talk therapy; a client, a couch and a psychologist with a notepad and pencil in hand. While some approaches do utilize this method, there are numerous types of therapy that can be used to help a client overcome problems. In all cases, the goal of therapy is to provide a nonjudgmental environment that allows the client and therapy provider to work together towards a mutually agreed upon set of goals. The following are just a few of the many different types of therapy available.
What is Psychoanalytic Therapy?: Psychoanalytic therapy is one of the most well-known treatment modalities, but it is also one of the most misunderstood by mental health consumers. Founded by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytic therapists generally spend time listening to patients talk about their lives, which is why this method is often referred to as "talk therapy." The therapy provider will look for patterns or significant events that may play a role in the client’s current difficulties. Psychoanalysts believe that childhood events and unconscious feelings, thoughts and motivations play a role in mental illness and maladaptive behaviors.
Benefits of Psychoanalytic Therapy: While this type of therapy has many critics who claim that psychoanalytic therapy is too time consuming, expensive and generally ineffective, this treatment has several benefits as well. The therapist offers an empathetic and nonjudgmental environment where the client can feel safe in revealing feelings or actions that have led to stress or tension in his or her life. Oftentimes, simply sharing these burdens with another person can have a beneficial influence.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?Cognitive therapists tend to focus on specific problems. These therapists believe that irrational thinking or faulty perceptions cause dysfunctions. A cognitive therapist may work with a client to change thought patterns. This type of therapy is often effective for clients suffering from depression or anxiety. Behavioral therapists work to change problematic behaviors that have been trained through years of reinforcement. A good example of behavioral therapy would be a therapist working with a client to overcome a fear of heights. The therapist would encourage the client to gradually face their fear of heights through experience. The client might first imagine standing on the roof of a tall building or riding an escalator. Next, the client would slowly expose themselves to greater and greater levels of their fear until thephobia diminishes or disappears entirely.
Benefits of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive and behavioral approaches can be highly effective when treating specific problems. Oftentimes, cognitive and behavioral approaches are combined when treating a disorder. A therapist treating a client with social anxiety may help the client form more accurate thinking patterns as well as focusing on specific behaviors, such as social avoidance.
Group Therapy: What is Group Therapy? Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where two or more clients work with one or more therapists or counselors. This methods is a popular format for support groups, where group members can learn from the experiences of others and offer advice. This method is also more cost effective than individual psychotherapy and is oftentimes more effective.
Benefits of Group Therapy: It is common for those suffering from a mental illness or problem behavior to feel alone, isolated or different. Group therapy can help clients by providing a peer group of individuals that are currently experiencing the same symptoms or who have recovered from a similar problem. Group members can also provide emotional support and a safe forum to practice new behaviors.
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