Boston University School of Social Work

Adult Psychopathology (3 credits)

HB 723

Graduate Prerequisites: HB 720 or permission of department chair. The goal of this course is to provide students with a framework for understanding human behavior when challenges to healthy adult functioning overwhelm coping mechanisms and resources. A biopsychosocial model of psychopathology is emphasized as we study some of the disorders classified in the DSM-5, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, PTSD, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse/addictions. Complex factors in the etiology of various disorders are considered, including genetic, neurochemical, biological, developmental, familial, sociocultural, and political variables that affect the occurrence, presentation, course, and treatment of a problem. While learning the perspective and language of the phenomenological approach outlined in the DSM-5, we also highlight weaknesses and blind spots in the traditional approach to diagnoses. In particular, we explore the impact of oppression and bias on the naming and treatment of mental disorders, including the influences of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, religion, and ethnicity on the diagnostic process. Students learn to consider the DSM-5 classification system as a social construction that reveals as much about the society and its views of human behavior as it does about the clients with whom social workers have contact. While this course is not designed to focus on treatment, students have the opportunity to consider how diagnoses inform treatment and review current research on both biological and psychosocial treatments for different disorders. Finally, we seek to enhance empathic understanding of our clients experiences and the experiences of their families and loved ones, remembering that people are not their diagnoses, that what is labeled individual pathology may be an adaptive response to oppressive external circumstances, and that people who experience a breakdown in functioning demonstrate not only difficulties but also compelling strengths. This course employs lecture, large and small group discussion, case presentations, and videotapes. Clinical vignettes from instructors and class are used to illustrate mental disorders and theoretical perspectives, and make material relevant to clinical practice, particularly with urban populations.

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