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Commentary   |    
DSM-5 and the Research Domain Criteria: 100 Years After Jaspers’ General Psychopathology
Jose de Leon, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2014;171:492-494. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13091218
View Author and Article Information

Dr. de Leon reports no financial relationships with commercial interests.

From the Mental Health Research Center, Eastern State Hospital, Lexington, Ky.

Address correspondence to Dr. de Leon (jdeleon@uky.edu).

Copyright © 2014 by the American Psychiatric Association

Accepted November , 2013.

In 1913, 30-year-old German psychiatrist Karl Jaspers published the first edition of General Psychopathology, in which he summarized current psychiatric knowledge and included his ideas regarding the methodological and scientific issues then facing psychiatry. In the words of his biographer, Jaspers thought the discipline of psychiatry “was crying out for a systematic clarification of current thinking” and that “to make real progress psychiatrists must learn to think,” but his book was not well received by more senior German psychiatrists (1). Jaspers subsequently became better known as a philosopher (1). In 1922, when writing the third edition (2), Jaspers was no longer in direct contact with psychiatry and asked for suggestions from Kurt Schneider, an excellent young psychiatrist, who then probably updated the later editions of the book.

The first English translation of General Psychopathology, more than 900 pages long, was published in 1963, reflecting the seventh German edition (3). Jaspers’ book defined psychiatry as a hybrid scientific discipline that must combine the methods of the natural and the social sciences which, respectively, provide an explanation of psychiatric diseases that follows the medical model and an understanding of psychiatric abnormalities that are variations of human living. General Psychopathology has had a continuous influence on psychiatry in the United Kingdom, including psychiatric research (4) and resident training (57), but has had very limited direct impact on U.S. psychiatry. General Psychopathology’s English translator (8) described a visit to a Philadelphia psychiatry department, where the chairman told him, “Nobody reads it, but it is obligatory to have it seen on your shelf.” The American Journal of Psychiatry has published only two articles on Jaspers. In 1967, Havens (9) commented on the publication of the General Psychopathology translation and hoped that U.S. psychiatrists would be open to Jaspers, who “provides a systematic rationale for eclecticism.” In 1986, Schwartz and Wiggins (10) used Jaspers’ “explaining” and “understanding” concepts in the context of Engel’s biopsychosocial model.

At 100 years, we might speculate on what Jaspers would think about the current differences in diagnostic strategy between the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) (11) and DSM-5. The RDoC appears reminiscent of Karl Wernicke’s attempt to consider all mental disorders as brain disorders, and DSM-5 follows Emil Kraepelin’s dictum that all psychiatric disorders follow the medical model of disease. Jaspers had strong critiques of both Wernicke and Kraepelin.

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Wernicke and RDoC

According to Insel et al. (11), “the RDoC framework conceptualizes mental illness as brain disorders. In contrast to neurological disorders with identifiable lesions, mental disorders can be addressed as disorders of brain circuits.” At the beginning of the 20th century, Wernicke, already famous for describing the sensory speech center, also wrote a textbook including a pathophysiological model of the relationship between brain and behavior, which became one of the most important competitors of Kraepelin’s textbook (12, 13). According to Jaspers, Wernicke believed that all mental illnesses are “cerebral illnesses in the sense that they can be wholly comprehended in terms of cerebral processes” (3). If Wernicke had not died young, we psychiatrists might be living in a “Wernickian world” instead of a “Kraepelinian world” (13). Although Jaspers acknowledges that Wernicke’s pathophysiological model applied well to aphasia and other neurological disorders, Jaspers thought Wernicke erred in extending it to all psychiatric disorders. Jaspers contrasted Wernicke and Sigmund Freud, who were both disciples of the same Viennese mentor, Theodor Meynert, saying that they were positioned at opposite extremes in psychiatry (3). In Jaspers’ view, Wernicke thought that “explaining” was the only methodology needed in psychiatry. On the other hand, Freud thought that “understanding” was the only methodology needed in psychiatry. The RDoC’s focus on brain disorders implies a view similar to Wernicke’s that explaining is the only methodology needed in psychiatry.

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Kraepelin and DSM-5

The diagnostic scheme for psychiatric disorders developed by the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University (14), which led to DSM-III, DSM-IV, and DSM-5, is a Kraepelinian nosological model where mental disorders follow the medical model of disease as a set of identifiable symptoms. Jaspers was critical of Kraepelin’s idealization of the medical model of general paralysis of the insane (neurosyphilis) as a model for psychiatric disorders, with each disorder having a unique cause, set of symptoms, course, outcome, and neuropathology. In General Psychopathology, Jaspers proposed that some psychiatric disorders follow the traditional medical model, principally those that were called organic mental disorders in DSM-III. Jaspers called them “known somatic illnesses with psychic disturbances” (“Group I”). Other psychiatric disorders, he proposed, were not medical disorders but variations of normality; Jaspers called these disorders of personality, including “abnormal reactions, neurosis and neurotic syndromes, as well as abnormal personalities and their developments” (“Group III”). Situated between them were the psychoses (“Group II”), which, according to Jaspers, could be distinguished from normality but were not clearly separated from each other—e.g., intermediate cases between schizophrenia and manic-depressive illnesses. Jaspers felt that Kraepelin’s denial of the heterogeneous nature of mental disorders failed to capture some psychiatric disorders correctly (3).

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Conclusions

Jaspers’ critiques a century ago of Wernicke’s brain pathophysiological model and Kraepelin’s medical model might thus be applied contemporarily to RDoC and DSM-5. We still struggle 100 years later with the issues that Jaspers raised: 1) psychiatry is a hybrid scientific discipline that must include in its research enterprise patients’ beliefs and culture, influences not captured by traditional scientific reductionism, and 2) psychiatry encompasses heterogeneous disorders, not just those that follow the traditional medical model.

Kirkbright  S:  Karl Jaspers: A Biography. Navigations in Truth .  New Haven, Conn,  Yale University Press, 2004
 
Janzarik  W:  Jaspers, Kurt Schneider and the Heidelberg school of psychiatry.  Hist Psychiatry 1998; 9:241–252
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Jaspers  K:  General Psychopathology.  Translated from the German 7th edition by Hoenig J and Hamilton MH.  Manchester, UK,  Manchester University Press, 1963
 
Wing  JK:  Use and misuse of the PSE.  Br J Psychiatry 1983; 143:111–117
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Shepherd  M:  Karl Jaspers: General Psychopathology.  Br J Psychiatry 1982; 141:310–312
 
Harrison  PJ:  General Psychopathology: Karl Jaspers: a trainee’s view.  Br J Psychiatry 1991; 159:300–302
 
Goldberg  D:  Karl Jaspers, General Psychopathology.  Br J Psychiatry 2013; 202:83
[CrossRef]
 
Hoeing  J:  Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology: the history of the English translation.  Hist Psychiatry 2004; 15:233–236
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Havens  LL:  Karl Jaspers and American psychiatry.  Am J Psychiatry 1967; 124:66–70
[PubMed]
 
Schwartz  MA;  Wiggins  OP:  Systems and the structuring of meaning: contributions to a biopsychosocial medicine.  Am J Psychiatry 1986; 143:1213–1221
[PubMed]
 
Insel  T;  Cuthbert  B;  Garvey  M;  Heinssen  R;  Pine  DS;  Quinn  K;  Sanislow  C;  Wang  P:  Research domain criteria (RDoC): toward a new classification framework for research on mental disorders.  Am J Psychiatry 2010; 167:748–751
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Lanczik  M;  Keil  G:  Carl Wernicke’s localization theory and its significance for the development of scientific psychiatry.  Hist Psychiatry 1991; 2:171–180
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Berrios  GE;  Marková  IS:  The concept of neuropsychiatry: a historical overview.  J Psychosom Res 2002; 53:629–638
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Decker  HS:  How Kraepelinian was Kraepelin? how Kraepelinian are the neo-Kraepelinians? from Emil Kraepelin to DSM-III.  Hist Psychiatry 2007; 18:337–360
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
References Container
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References

Kirkbright  S:  Karl Jaspers: A Biography. Navigations in Truth .  New Haven, Conn,  Yale University Press, 2004
 
Janzarik  W:  Jaspers, Kurt Schneider and the Heidelberg school of psychiatry.  Hist Psychiatry 1998; 9:241–252
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Jaspers  K:  General Psychopathology.  Translated from the German 7th edition by Hoenig J and Hamilton MH.  Manchester, UK,  Manchester University Press, 1963
 
Wing  JK:  Use and misuse of the PSE.  Br J Psychiatry 1983; 143:111–117
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Shepherd  M:  Karl Jaspers: General Psychopathology.  Br J Psychiatry 1982; 141:310–312
 
Harrison  PJ:  General Psychopathology: Karl Jaspers: a trainee’s view.  Br J Psychiatry 1991; 159:300–302
 
Goldberg  D:  Karl Jaspers, General Psychopathology.  Br J Psychiatry 2013; 202:83
[CrossRef]
 
Hoeing  J:  Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology: the history of the English translation.  Hist Psychiatry 2004; 15:233–236
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Havens  LL:  Karl Jaspers and American psychiatry.  Am J Psychiatry 1967; 124:66–70
[PubMed]
 
Schwartz  MA;  Wiggins  OP:  Systems and the structuring of meaning: contributions to a biopsychosocial medicine.  Am J Psychiatry 1986; 143:1213–1221
[PubMed]
 
Insel  T;  Cuthbert  B;  Garvey  M;  Heinssen  R;  Pine  DS;  Quinn  K;  Sanislow  C;  Wang  P:  Research domain criteria (RDoC): toward a new classification framework for research on mental disorders.  Am J Psychiatry 2010; 167:748–751
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Lanczik  M;  Keil  G:  Carl Wernicke’s localization theory and its significance for the development of scientific psychiatry.  Hist Psychiatry 1991; 2:171–180
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Berrios  GE;  Marková  IS:  The concept of neuropsychiatry: a historical overview.  J Psychosom Res 2002; 53:629–638
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Decker  HS:  How Kraepelinian was Kraepelin? how Kraepelinian are the neo-Kraepelinians? from Emil Kraepelin to DSM-III.  Hist Psychiatry 2007; 18:337–360
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
References Container
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