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July 2021

Psychiatry. 1987 Feb; 50(1): 31-49.

Adjustment disorder and psychiatric practice: cultural and historical aspects.

Fabrega H, Mezzich J.

A universal concern of healers and health practitioners of all social groups is that of caring for individuals reacting to social and interpersonal hardships. One could view individuals experiencing such hardships as prototypical patients of a society's health profession, however this may be defined. In contemporary psychiatry, such individuals are diagnosed as showing an "adjustment disorder." In view of the time-honored legitimacy of caring for individuals meeting criteria for an adjustment disorder, it is ironic that the status of this "disorder" in the discipline's contemporary nosology is controversial and anomalous. In this paper, these and related issues are discussed. Emphasis is given to some of the cultural, historical and clinical-epidemiologic factors that render disturbances that can be diagnosed as adjustment disorder important in psychiatry and, indeed, worthy of inclusion in DSM-III. Theoretical and empirical problems that would render this entity a more legitimate one in contemporary biomedical psychiatry are reviewed.

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