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Methods of data collection in psychopathology: the role of semi-structured, phenomenological interviews

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A Correction to this article was published on 15 September 2021

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Research in psychopathology is booming in an unprecedented way, at least, in terms of increasing number of publications. Yet, a few questions arise: Does quantity also give us quality? Are the collected data generally of sound quality? How are data typically collected in psychopathology? Are the applied methods of data collection appropriate for this particular field of study? This article explores three different methods of data collection in psychopathology, namely self-rating scales, structured interviews, and semi-structured, phenomenological interviews. To identify the most adequate methodological approach, we first establish the nature of the object of psychopathology and then we critically assess each method’s appropriateness to this field of study. We emphasize fundamental issues that make self-rating scales and structured interviews unfit for the task of adequately examining psychopathology. By contrast, we propose that a semi-structured, phenomenological interview presents a more appropriate method. Finally, we describe two types of semi-structured, phenomenological interviews that can be applied to assess and explore psychopathology, respectively.

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  1. In this context, “reliability” refers to different interviewers allocating the same diagnosis to the same patient.

  2. The shift from a prototypical to a criteria-based definition of mental disorders was later adopted in The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders (WHO 1992).

  3. “Information variance” refers to differences in what a patient discloses to an interviewer, whereas “criterion variance” refers to differences in interviewers’ assessment of whether the disclosed information fulfills certain diagnostic criteria or not (Jansson and Nordgaard 2016, 30).

  4. SCID was not the first structured diagnostic interview in psychiatry (Spitzer 1983).

  5. In this context, “validity” refers to the extent to which the diagnoses correspond to the “reality” of the diagnostic categories. For example, does the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder successfully “capture” persons with borderline personality disorder and discriminate them from individuals with other disorders?


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Correspondence to Mads Gram Henriksen.

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Henriksen, M.G., Englander, M. & Nordgaard, J. Methods of data collection in psychopathology: the role of semi-structured, phenomenological interviews. Phenom Cogn Sci 21, 9–30 (2022).

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