Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Some Whorfians and renegade linguistics and psychologists move beyond this weak approach to understanding the interplay between words and thought. The Strong Whorf Hypothesis is based on the assertion that our language (and specifically our words) strongly influences and even determines our perceptions of and actions in the world. The strong question becomes: do the Inuit and skiers see something different and take different actions as a result of their more detailed distinctions regarding “snow”? Did the Greeks see something different in their loving relationships with one another? Were there differing perceptions that led to differing decisions and actions as a result of the words being used?

Clearly, this pull between a weak and strong Whorfian perspective is important when we turn to the use of words to understand and classify the seemingly elusive phenomenon called “psychopathology.” Semantics play a critical role in the assignment of labels to particular forms of psychopathology. Specifically, we seek to find remedies for the emotional and mental problems afflicting those who are classified as “psychopathological.” Is our concern about and “valuing” of specific domains of psychopathology (such as anxiety and substance abuse) reflected in finer semantic differentiations of these domains?

Syntax: It is not just the words being used that seem to form a social construction. It is also the way in which these words are arrayed. Some languages, for instance, are “right-branching” whereas others are “left-branching” These two terms refer to the way in which a sentence is structured. The language in which this essay is written (English) can be identified as “right branching”—for the modifiers are placed after the subject. For instance, as the author of this essay, I can write that “psychopathology is a domain in which there is considerable confusion and in which a great deal of money is at play.” The emphasis in this statement is upon the word “psychopathology” – while the modifiers are what I have to say about psychopathy. You, as the reader, are directed to attend first to the main topic: psychopathology. I then take you in one or more directions from this main subject.

A left-branching structure is less commonly used in English—though it is quite common in certain other language groups. When an English sentence is structured with left branching, then the subject comes after the modifiers. Our sentence would now read: “A great deal of money and considerable confusion is at play when we consider the domain of psychopathology.” As the reader, you must wait for the “punch line.” What is the writer leading us to with this concern about money and clarification? There is drama in the use of left-branching structures (this sentence itself is left-branching). However, the left-branching structure can also produce quite a bit of misunderstanding (this is a right-branching sentence).

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William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: www.psychology.edu) offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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