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Robpaperonwhat+is+therapy - Mental Illness 1 Running head...

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Mental Illness 1 Running head: THE CONCEPT OF MENTAL ILLNESS The Concept of Mental Illness: An Analysis of Four Pivotal Issues Robert L. Woolfolk I would like to thank Lesley Allen, John Dorris, Mike Gara, Dominic Murphy, and Dan Robinson for their comments on the manuscript. Requests for reprints should be sent to Robert L. Woolfolk, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Green Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1010. Abstract The concept of mental illness is explored through an examination of four key foundational issues. These are (1) the notion of the “mental” as it relates to psychopathology; (2) the concept of illness; (3) the relationship of mental illness to concepts of function and malfunction; and (4) sociocultural dimensions of psychopathology. The problematic status of the concept of mental illness is
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Mental Illness 2 investigated though locating it within the various discourses of biomedicine, psychology, law, and sociology and by explicating and relating the philosophical underpinnings of those discourses. The Concept of Mental Illness: An Analysis of Four Pivotal Issues In mid-1999 the President of the United States ordered the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan to provide federal employees with insurance that established “full parity” between mental illnesses and those more accepted maladies that are the physician’s stock and trade (Causey, 1999). The President urged private insurers nationwide to end their favored practice of maintaining special restrictions on payments for the treatment of mental disorders. Yet while mental patients and those professionals who care for them undoubtedly rejoiced, what can only be termed philosophical rumblings occurred in the popular media. Various journalists described to their lay readership many of the issues that, over the last few decades, have confounded philosophers (Moldover,1999; Rowan, 1999). Defining and delimiting illness, especially when the illness is the kind treated by psychiatrists and psychologists, is not straightforward. What properly is encompassed by the category “mental illness” turns out to be a matter on which consensus is not
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Mental Illness 3 easily reached. Standing, as it does, at the intersection of various conflicting cultural contexts, the concept of mental illness seems to possess an inevitable nebulousness. The competing biomedical, psychological, sociological, and legal perspectives on mental illness assign to it distinctive and often incompatible properties. The conceptual ambiguity of mental illness, as it turns out, derives from many perennial philosophical quandaries that are at the foundations of the disciplines that seek to conceptualize it. An inquiry into the nature of mental illness entangles us unavoidably with perennial philosophical issues: mind and body, freedom and responsibility, fact and value.
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