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Psychiatric diagnosis, tacit knowledge, and criteria 

Psychiatric diagnosis, tacit knowledge, and criteria
Psychiatric diagnosis, tacit knowledge, and criteria
Vagueness in Psychiatry

Tim Thornton


The two main psychiatric taxonomies set out codifications of psychiatric diagnoses via lists of symptoms with the aim of maximizing the reliability of diagnostic judgements. This approach has been criticized, however, for failing to capture the precise connection between diagnostic judgements and symptoms as detected by skilled clinicians. Assuming that this criticism is correct, this chapter offers two related accounts of why this might be so. First, skilled diagnostic judgement may be an exercise of tacit knowledge: a practical skill the exercise of which requires the presence of the patient. Second, the conception of criteria implicit in the DSM and ICD is based on a mistaken view of how what people say and do connects to their mental states. On an alternative account, in an overall gestalt diagnostic judgement the various criteria are abstractions from a whole that directly expresses the underlying psychopathological state of patients or clients.

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