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Palgrave Macmillan

Embodied, Embedded, and Enactive Psychopathology

Reimagining Mental Disorder

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  • © 2023


  • Examines how mental disorders can best be understood, moving forward current debates
  • Utilises the embodied, embedded, and enactive view of human functioning
  • Considers the implications of this perspective for the classification, explanation, and treatment of mental disorder

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About this book

Embodied, Embedded, and Enactive Psychopathology presents a new way of thinking about mental disorder that is holistic yet critically minded, biologically plausible yet value-inclusive, and scientific yet deeply compassionate. Grounded in an embodied, embedded, and enactive (3e) view of human functioning, this book presents a novel conceptual framework for the study and treatment of mental disorders and explores implications for the tasks of classification, explanation, and treatment. Chapters one to three argue for the central role of conceptualization in the study and treatment of mental disorders. Popular conceptual models are critiqued, including other recent enactive frameworks. Chapters four to seven then present 3e Psychopathology and explore its implications. This includes analysis of both research-based efforts to explain mental disorders, and methods for formulating individual-level explanations in clinical practice. New answers are presented for important questionssuch as: are mental disorders things we do or get? Are mental disorders defined in nature or are they socially constructed? Are mental disorders the same things across different cultures? And, are mental disorders located in our brains, bodies, or environments? This engaging work offers fresh insights that will appeal to clinicians, researchers, and those with an interest in the philosophy of psychiatry.



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Table of contents (7 chapters)


“This is a highly topical book that convincingly applies the new embodied and enactive approaches to mental disorders. Instead of an internalist, reductionist view, the author understands such disorders as complex interactions of subject and environment; thus, from the subject's perspective, they appear not only as suffering but also as doing – an important prerequisite for changing unfavorable interaction patterns in therapy. I strongly recommend this book to all mental health professionals who are seeking a forward-looking way to understand mental illness.” (Thomas Fuchs, Karl Jaspers Professor for Philosophy and Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg, Germany)

"Nielsen uses the enactive toolkit to develop an original framework of psychopathology that emphasizes organizational causality, naturalized normativity, contextuality, complex dynamic networks, and explanatory pluralism. His ability to weave together the natural and the social into a coherent whole,helps dissolve deeply entrenched binaries that have held the psy-sciences back. 3e psychopathology represents the avant-garde in our philosophical understanding of mental disorders and will be a source of explanatory insights and new research questions for years to come."(Awais Aftab, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University, USA)

“In this book Kristopher Nielsen, a clinical psychologist dissatisfied with current accounts of what mental disorders are, undertakes an ambitious and systematic probe of a vast literature in philosophy of mind, science, and psychiatry to locate a set of conceptual resources sufficient to ground an adequate understanding of mental disorders. From the vantage point of the innovative enactive framework that Nielsen constructs, human organisms are dynamic multi-scaled systems embedded in physical-socio-cultural environments that function well when they can fulfill their needs by adapting to changing circumstances within themselves and their environments. Mental disorders, then, arise in instances in which attempts to self-maintain in the face of a changing environment falter, thereby thwarting need fulfillment and culminating in dysfunction. The implications of Nielsen's conceptual framework are thus considerable; understanding mental disorders, identifying their cause(s), and developing effective interventions for treating them, importantly and fundamentally requires a holistic multi-scale examination of an individual’s brain-body-environment system. Moreover, achieving such conceptual, explanatory, and therapeutic goals is not possible within the confines of a single scientific or humanistic discipline; rather, it requires practitioners from many different disciplines to coordinate their efforts. Nielsen’s novel and engaging contribution is thus poised not only to revolutionize how mental disorders are understood, explained, and treated, but also how practices surrounding mental health research and clinical treatment are structured. The book is a must-read for philosophers, mental health researchers, and clinicians, and will be of interest to all whose lives have been touched by mental illness.” (Jacqueline Sullivan, Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario, Canada)

"Trying to comprehend the complexity of psychopathology is daunting task. A strength of the 3e worldview is that it presents an easy to navigate scaffolding that makes the complexity of psychopathology more manageable and as a writer Kristopher Nielsen is 3e psychopathology’s clearest expositor. His concern with how 3e psychopathology can be used in actual clinical situations is an extra bonus.” (Peter Zachar, Ida Belle Young Professor of Psychology, Auburn University Montgomery, USA)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Te Kura Mātai Hinengaro - School of Psychology, Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

    Kristopher Nielsen

About the author

Kristopher Nielsen, MSc, PhD, is a clinical psychologist based in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He is associated with Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington.

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