Can Evolutionary Theory Help Us Define Mental Disorder?

New blog post on The New Existentialists:

Raskin, J. D. (2013, January 4). Can evolutionary theory help us define mental disorder? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Jerome Wakefield (1992a, 1992b) offers a provocative alternative to the vague atheoretical definition of mental disorder presently found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2000). Rooted in evolutionary theory, Dr. Wakefield argues that mental disorder should be defined as a condition that (a) society deems harmful to the person, and (b) results from the failure of an internal mechanism to operate according to its naturally designed function. Dr. Wakefield contends that if the mental health professions adopted this definition, they would be better able to distinguish between what truly is a disorder and what is not. He maintains that while essentialist concepts sometimes lead us astray, other times they do identify common underlying properties of things. This is the case, he believes, when it comes to mental disorders, which leads him to conclude: “With respect to mental disorders, the common property that we now know is picked out is failure of evolved mental functions, so here the essentialist definition succeeds in picking out a real property” (Wakefield, 2002, p. 259). I’d like to pose several questions about Dr. Wakefield’s position as a way to further generate discussion.

Honoring the Memory of Thomas Szasz

My latest blog post, in memory of Thomas Szasz:
“Honoring the Memory of Thomas Szasz”

Thomas Szasz died on September 8, 2012. For over 50 years, he argued against the ever-increasing medicalization of everyday problems. His argument was simple, yet often misunderstood. Because minds (unlike brains) are not physical, they cannot suffer from diseases in any literal sense. Thus, when people talk of “mental” illnesses, they are using language metaphorically (Szasz, 1974).


Defining Mental Disorder, DSM-5 Style

New blog post examining the proposed revision to the definition of mental disorder, which is currently being considered for DSM-5:

EXCERPT: What is a mental disorder? This is a question the American Psychiatric Association (2012) has been contemplating as it prepares the DSM-5, the soon-to-be-published revision of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM-5 development website proposes the following new definition of mental disorder…

Read the full post.

Does Going to a Psychotherapist Mean You’re Mentally Ill?

My first blog post on The New Existentialists:

Does Going to a Psychotherapist Mean You’re Mentally Ill? | The New Existentialists

EXCERPT: Does going to a psychotherapist mean you’re mentally ill? If you want it paid for by your health insurance, then the answer is yes. Why? Because in order to get paid, your therapist is required to diagnose you with a mental disorder. Another way to think about this is that insurance companies cover health problems. From their perspective, if they are going to pay your therapist, she better be providing medical services that fix something wrong with you. If you’re simply there to shoot the breeze about your feelings, they aren’t obliged to pay.  Read the full post.