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Symptom Complexes

June 13, 2008

Abnormal psychology, like psychiatry, is largely based on constructions of symptom complexes (“syndromes”). However, using, for instance, factor analysis to detect groupings of symptoms is not the same as discovering etiologies. Once etiologies are discovered, DSM categories will most likely completely change. Conditions may be named after the regions of the brain where they originate.

For instance, it may turn out that what is, today, called Asperger’s disorder/syndrome will be attributable to several unrelated etiologies – all of which simply manifest similar symptoms. In other words, current psychiatric categories are determined mostly from secondary factors (symptoms), not from primary factors (causes or etiologies).

In terms of the sociological view of diagnosis, much depends on the sociologist and her or his theoretical and methodological traditions. As a social constructionist (Peter Berger, Harold Garfinkel, Michel Foucault, etc.), I have no problems with neurological etiologies. However, I would argue that the names and significances we give to symptoms or etiologies are still social constructions.

Take, for instance, the concept of “being defective,” which is a social construction. It is impossible to speak of “defectiveness” unless one is accepting some standard of external validity (people who are not defective). To me, that idea is problematic if taken seriously.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Catana permalink
    June 15, 2008 6:50 am

    “, it may turn out that what is, today, called Asperger’s disorder/syndrome will be attributable to several unrelated etiologies – all of which simply manifest similar symptoms.”

    I’d go further. I believe that the whole autism spectrum will eventually break down into separate, but overlapping conditions. I write mostly about giftedness, and find the same problems — useless psychiatric explanations dominate because there is little research at the neurological and physiological level. Practically all discussions of the sources of giftedness focus on behavior, and its motivations. This may change eventually, for both giftedness and Asperger’s, but in the meantime, it makes serious discussion nearly impossible because people’s heads are full of superficial explanations.

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