Are Psychiatric Disorders “Real”?

  • Leon Eisenberg


Psychiatry is dismissed as a medical specialty by some physicians because many of the disorders in its domain have yet to be consistently associated with organ pathology. Critics with a sociologic bent add that psychiatrists misuse medical authority to apply the label “sick” to deviant behaviour which is offensive to community standards. By labelling deviance as a medical disorder, they argue, patients are stripped of the dignity of personal responsibility for their actions and, authorities justify police action by the state to restrict their liberties. Both groups of critics take psychiatric disorders to be less “real” than medical or surgical ones because structural or biochemical defects underlying the pathological behaviour have not yet been demonstrated. The inference is that, were there to be such evidence, the attribution of illness would take on a qualitatively different character.


British Journal Schizophrenic Patient Psychiatric Morbidity Scarlet Fever Serum Agglutination Test 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leon Eisenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Social Medicine and Health PolicyHarvard Medical SchoolUSA

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