Richard McNally – What is Mental Illness?

The fifth edition of the “bible” of American psychiatry, the DSM-5, appeared two years ago amidst a swirl of controversies. Critics claimed that psychiatry was colonizing ever more of everyday emotional life, erasing the distinction between normal emotional distress and psychiatric disorder. Others objected to the categorical medical model embodied in DSM, arguing that disorders differ more by degree than by kind. The purpose of my talk is to probe these controversies, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the social constructionist, evolutionary, and genomic approaches to resolving them. Finally, I close by briefly introducing network analysis, a radically new approach to conceptualizing psychopathology that promises to transform our understanding of mental illness.

Richard J. McNally received his B.S. in psychology from Wayne State University in 1976, and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1982. He did his clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Behavior Therapy Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Temple University School of Medicine. In 1984 he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School where he established the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and directed the university counseling center. He moved to the Department of Psychology at Harvard University in 1991 where he is now Professor and Director of Clinical Training. He has more than 440 publications, most concerning anxiety disorders (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder), including the books Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis (Guilford Press, 1994), Remembering Trauma (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2003), and What is Mental Illness? (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2011). He has conducted laboratory studies concerning cognitive functioning in adults reporting histories of childhood sexual abuse, including those reporting recovered memories of abuse. Among his current projects are network analyses of psychopathology. He has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, and he served on the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV PTSD and specific phobia committees, and was an advisor to the DSM-5 Anxiety Disorders Sub-Workgroup. He is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, winner of the 2005 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Science of Clinical Psychology, and the winner of the 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. He is on the Institute for Scientific Information’s “Highly Cited” list for psychology and psychiatry [top 0.5% of authors worldwide in terms of citation impact].

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