WHAT IS DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOPATHOLOGY?
Developmental psychopathology is an evolving scientific discipline whose predominant focus is elucidating the interplay among the biological, psychological, and social-contextual aspects of normal and abnormal development across the life span .
In their seminal article, Sroufe and Rutter proposed that developmental psychopathology could be defined as “the study of the origins and course of individual patterns of behavioral maladaptation, whatever the age of onset, whatever the causes, whatever the transformations in behavioral manifestation, and however complex the course of the developmental pattern may be.” Relatedly, the Institute of Medicine produced a report, entitled Research on Children and Adolescents with Mental, Behavioral, and Developmental Disorders, written from the integrative perspective of developmental psychopathology and highly influential in the development of the National Plan for Research on Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders.
In its report, the Institute stated that a developmental psychopathology approach should take into account “the emerging behavioral repertoire, cognitive and language functions, social and emotional processes, and changes occurring in anatomical structures and physiological processes of the brain” .
Given the intimate relation between the study of normality and psychopathology, theoreticians and researchers who predominantly focus on normal processes also espouse similar perspectives about the nature of development. For example, Cairns conceptualized the study of normal development as necessitating a holistic, synthetic science: “Maturational, experiential, and cultural contributions are inseparably coalesced in ontogeny.
Hence, developmental studies should be multilevel, concerned with ontogenetic integration, and employ person-oriented as well as variable-oriented analyses.”
Developmental psychopathologists stress that disordered individuals may move between pathological and nonpatho-logical forms of functioning. In addition, even in the midst of psychopathology, individuals may display adaptive and maladaptive processes so that it becomes possible to delimit the presence, nature, and boundaries of the underlying psychopathology.
Furthermore, developmental psychopathology is a perspective that is especially applicable to the investigation of transitional points in development across the life span . Development extends throughout the entire course of life, and adaptive and maladaptive processes emerge over the life span.
From infancy through senescence, each period of life has its own developmental agenda and contributes in a unique manner to the past, present, and future organization of individual development. Rutter has conjectured that key life turning points may be times when the presence of protective mechanisms could help individuals redirect themselves from a risk trajectory onto a more adaptive developmental pathway.
Likewise, Toth and Cicchetti (1999) have suggested that these periods of developmental transition may also be times when individuals are most amenable to profiting from therapeutic interventions.