Introduction - Mental health

Psychology: an introduction (Oxford Southern Africa) - Leslie Swartz 2011

Mental health

Tony Naidoo

As a discipline and profession, psychology has spawned a range of theories and interventions directed at making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, groups, communities and in the broader society. The three chapters in this part provide examples of unique and yet divergent ways in which psychological knowledge, skills and practice have been, and are being, utilised to address specific needs that psychologists regularly deal with in their work domain.

Chapter 24 on psychopathology deals specifically with mental health problems, although these often have an integral relationship with problems in physical health. This chapter provides an introduction to psychopathology, providing an overview of different ways of understanding psychopathology, examining how mental health problems have been understood historically, and detailing current perspectives and the contemporary classification of mental health problems.

One primary skill that psychologists have is being able to conduct or engage in psychotherapy with a single client or with a group. Chapter 25 on psychotherapies describes three dominant approaches to working therapeutically with an individual. This chapter illustrates some of the core features underlying the theoretical notions, intervention techniques and objectives of each approach.

Chapter 26 highlights the need for broadening the focus of psychology in order to make a difference at the community level. Whereas psychotherapy focuses on curative or restorative goals with individuals, community mental health initiatives have a wider agenda — seeking to promote and enhance the health and well-being of individuals, groups and communities, and to engage in the prevention of social problems that undermine mental health. A useful model for conceptualising mental health interventions is provided, indicating various strategic roles that psychologists can play in making a difference in the communities in which they work.

In their divergent foci, these three chapters delineate different ways that psychologists can make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.