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Lifespan Development

Review of "Development of Psychopathology"

By Benjamin L. Hankin and John R.Z. Abela (Editors)
Sage, 2005
Review by Peter B. Raabe, Ph.D. on Jan 7th 2006
Development of Psychopathology

What sort of factors lead to psychopathology? This is the central question that the authors of this book attempt to answer. The first half of the book consists of seven chapters that consider various stressors that seem to leave an individual vulnerable to mental problems. Here the authors discuss individual emotional makeup, biological variables, genetic factors, personality types, cognitive arrangements, interpersonal factors, and personality traits as possible catalysts to psychopathology. In the second half, the essays deal with a number of disorders that are believed to be the consequences of the stressors discussed in the first part, including life-long depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, behavioral problems, and the more nebulous afflictions termed personality disorders.

This book takes a developmental approach, in that discussion focuses on how psychopathology may arise in early childhood and then intensify over a lifetime, given two separate elements: the individual's initial level of vulnerability to potential psychological problems, and the types and amount of stress experienced by that individual. Discussion includes external stressors over which a child has no control--such as its biological makeup, the household environment, and economic level of the family--and stressors which are precipitated by the individual's own actions, such as conflict within personal relationships due to the individual's lack of inter-personal or social skills. The word "stress" is also used to suggest biological stressors, and as such it raises the difficult issue for the therapist of how to distinguish between those psychopathologies which can be treated with simple talk therapy and those requiring powerful psychotropic medication. But this book's aim is not to suggest treatments; its aim is an attempt to explain how psychopathology develops over an individual's lifespan.

Despite an admitted shortage of empirical data, the discussions in this book are at least thought-provoking and at best very informative. The authors of the chapters in this book use the scientific approach to separate and isolate various inter-connecting issues and overlapping elements that are believed to lead to mental distress and illnesses. There are a number of graphs that help to somewhat simplify the research information presented by the authors. The ones I found most fascinating (although at the same time disturbing) are the graphs in chapter 15, which deal with personality disorders. The authors offer ten charts detailing how various childhood adversities--such as physical and sexual abuse, emotional and cognitive neglect and maltreatment, and even the level of parental education--correlate with the development of various psychopathologies classified as personality disorders. Their conclusion, that "childhood abuse contributes to elevated risk for the development of PD's (personality disorders)" (455), will not be a startling revelation to most practitioners, but the way in which the research data is organized and presented makes it easy to comprehend the authors' claims regarding the etiology of those so-called personality disorders.

As mentioned above, many of the authors admit that there is a significant lack of clinical research data spanning individual life spans, therefore most of the conclusions reached are tenuously theoretical, and many of the authors acknowledge that their claims require support from additional empirical information. Inherent in this book is also the common chicken-and-egg problem, found in most texts on psychopathology, in which authors find themselves unable to clearly articulate where so-called mental problems end and biological brain problems begin. In one chapter the authors simply surrender to biology when they declare that "emotions ultimately have biological substrates" (97). This raises the interesting question, Does an emotion cause a change in the biological substrate or does a change in the biological substrate cause an emotion? The answer to this question has an enormous impact on the ultimate definition of "psychopathology." Happily, this book does not promote a purely biological description of psychopathology. I was glad to see the authors of chapter seven, dealing with genetics, clearly state in their conclusion that "genetic influences are probabilistic, and we should guard against explaining psychopathology in a reductionsitic 'genetic engineering' manner. Quantitative genetic liabilities to a specific temperament, disorder, or disease alter risk but rarely determine outcome" (187). This thesis--biology is important but it's not the ultimate causal factor-- is presented as the common thread in the development of psychopathology.

The essays in this book have clearly been written and compiled for an academic or professional audience. The language is clinical and references to other, previously published papers are plentiful. In other words there is an assumption held by the authors and editors that the reader is somewhat familiar with developments in the research and discussion of psychopathology. But having said that, I think this book is also accessible to the average lay reader with an interest in clinical psychology. While the language is technical in places it is not unintelligibly arcane.

This book has both an author and subject index--two valued resources not often found in a volume of collected essays.

 

2006 Peter B. Raabe

 

Peter B. Raabe teaches philosophy and has a private practice in philosophical counseling in North Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of the books Philosophical Counseling: Theory and Practice (Praeger, 2001) and Issues in Philosophical Counseling (Praeger, 2002).

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