Introduction to Multidimensional Models of Psychopathology

What you’ll learn to do: describe how multidimensional models and perspectives aid in understanding the etiology and treatment of mental disorders

icon of head with maze inside

As you have learned already, humans have a natural tendency to seek simple answers to the problems we face. In the past, this tendency led to beliefs that mental disorders were caused by divine disfavor, demonic possession, or bodily humors. Unfortunately, this human bias is often wrong, especially when we are trying to understand complex situations. For example, is there a simple answer as to what causes cancer? Pollution? Climate change? Crime? Pandemics? Simple, one-dimensional answers are not able to explain, let alone solve, complex problems because these situations, including mental disorders, are systemic in nature: they are influenced by multiple causes that interact with each other and can change over time.

One example of the tendency to seek simplistic answers is the commonly heard belief that mental disorders are caused by “a chemical imbalance” in the brain. The more we understand about mental disorders, the more we realize that this statement is a fable, an overly simplified, and incorrect understanding of systemic conditions. If we are to make progress in reducing stigma against the mentally ill and improving the effectiveness of treatments, we need to begin by seeking to understand more multidimensional models and explanations of mental disorders and seek to understand how the different elements interact. This section will help you do this, and it will lay the foundation for you to have a better understanding of how psychologists view and treat mental disorders. First, we will take a look at multidimensional models, and then dive deeper into the biological understanding of the etiology and treatment of mental disorders.