chapter  2
30 Pages

Coordinating Outer Space with Inner Space: Reflections on Developmental Psychopathology

Introducing a text on child psychiatry dedicated to him, Piaget (1975) used the opportunity to say that he was looking forward "with great expectation to the emergence of developmental psychopathology as a new discipline" (p.ix). He shared several thoughts that, it seems, were intended as advice for those who would shape and guide this new discipline, once its birth took place. First, Piaget cautioned that child psychiatry (here I would add clinical psychology) may place too much emphasis upon the principle of syndromes, which views individuals in terms of abnormal traits they share, loses sight of the common observation that some individuals "remain normal in situations where others become variously disturbed" (Piaget, 1975, p.vii), and, as Freud cautioned (Nagera, 1981), that the same individual may behave adequately at one moment and pathologically at another. From this caution, Piaget suggested that developmental psychopathology should go beyond juxtaposing findings from different diagnostic groups, or from assessments of family conflict, emotions, and intellectual performance, and pursue the goal of integrating cognitive psychology within other points of view to form a "science of ontogenetic development" (Piaget, 1975, p.vii). This goal, he believed, involved constructing "a common language" that would help us understand a psychological disorder in terms of the "ensemble of elements involved." Here, I understand Piaget to mean that we need to search for, define, and operationalize concepts that integrate a variety of elements including context, cognition, and emotion.