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The systematic study of abnormal experience, cognition and behaviour is the basis for classifying mental illnesses by categorizing the experiences described by the mentally ill people and defining the terms used to describe such phenomena. For progress in diagnosis, prognosis and treatment such classification is essential. Symptoms aggregate in particular patterns and form different mental or psychiatric illnesses.

Descriptive Psychopathology describes and categorizes the abnormal experience as recounted by the patient and observed in his behaviour. It tries to avoid theoretical explanations for such psychological events. On the other hand, explanatory psychopathologies attempt to provide explanation for such events according to theoretical constructs based on cognitive, behavioural, psychodynamic, philosophical, or biological basis.

Jasper (1959) considered Phenomenology as one of the foundation stones of psychopathology. The term phenomenology has various meanings in psychiatry. The commonest is its usage as a mere synonym for “signs and symptoms” or “phenomenological psychopathology”. Karl Jaspers in his idiosyncratic usage of phenomenology used it as a method to describe mental states in a manner which was empathic and theoretically neutral. Empathy literally means “feeling oneself into”, or feeling for other people’s adversities. Phenomenology is a complex philosophical system started by Edmund Husserl. However, Jasper’s phenomenology owed much to such Kantian concepts as form and content.

Phenomenology, the empathic method for eliciting symptoms has the single aim of making the patient’s experience understandable. It incorporates the capacity of putting oneself in the patient’s place. The patient describes himself, his feelings and his world. The doctor tries to unravel the nature of the sufferer’s experience, to understand well enough the internal experiences of the patient and his consequent behaviour. The observer can, as far as possible, know for himself what the patient’s experience must feel. Descriptive psychopathology therefore includes subjective aspects (phenomenology) and objective aspects (Description of behaviour).

Sims, Andrew: Symptoms in the Mind, An introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology (Third Edition). Saunders Ltd., 2003

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