Why We Essentialize Mental Disorders

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 38 (2):107-127 (2013)
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Abstract

Essentialism is one of the most pervasive problems in mental health research. Many psychiatrists still hold the view that their nosologies will enable them, sooner or later, to carve nature at its joints and to identify and chart the essence of mental disorders. Moreover, according to recent research in social psychology, some laypeople tend to think along similar essentialist lines. The main aim of this article is to highlight a number of processes that possibly explain the persistent presence and popularity of essentialist conceptions of mental disorders. One such process is the general tendency of laypeople to essentialize conceptual structures, including biological, social, and psychiatric categories. Another process involves the allure of biological psychiatry. Advocating a categorical and biological approach, this strand of psychiatry probably reinforced the already existing lay essentialism about mental disorders. As such, the question regarding why we essentialize mental disorders is a salient example of how cultural trends zero in on natural tendencies, and vice versa, and how both can boost each other

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