Psychiatric diagnosis and treatment in the 21st century: paradigm shifts versus incremental integration

Dan J. Stein, Steven J. Shoptaw, Daniel V. Vigo, Crick Lund, Pim Cuijpers, Jason Bantjes, Norman Sartorius, Mario Maj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Psychiatry has always been characterized by a range of different models of and approaches to mental disorder, which have sometimes brought progress in clinical practice, but have often also been accompanied by critique from within and without the field. Psychiatric nosology has been a particular focus of debate in recent decades; successive editions of the DSM and ICD have strongly influenced both psychiatric practice and research, but have also led to assertions that psychiatry is in crisis, and to advocacy for entirely new paradigms for diagnosis and assessment. When thinking about etiology, many researchers currently refer to a biopsychosocial model, but this approach has received significant critique, being considered by some observers overly eclectic and vague. Despite the development of a range of evidence-based pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies, current evidence points to both a treatment gap and a research-practice gap in mental health. In this paper, after considering current clinical practice, we discuss some proposed novel perspectives that have recently achieved particular prominence and may significantly impact psychiatric practice and research in the future: clinical neuroscience and personalized pharmacotherapy; novel statistical approaches to psychiatric nosology, assessment and research; deinstitutionalization and community mental health care; the scale-up of evidence-based psychotherapy; digital phenotyping and digital therapies; and global mental health and task-sharing approaches. We consider the extent to which proposed transitions from current practices to novel approaches reflect hype or hope. Our review indicates that each of the novel perspectives contributes important insights that allow hope for the future, but also that each provides only a partial view, and that any promise of a paradigm shift for the field is not well grounded. We conclude that there have been crucial advances in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment in recent decades; that, despite this important progress, there is considerable need for further improvements in assessment and intervention; and that such improvements will likely not be achieved by any specific paradigm shifts in psychiatric practice and research, but rather by incremental progress and iterative integration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-414
Number of pages22
JournalWorld Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Sept 2022


  • clinical neuroscience
  • community mental health care
  • deinstitutionalization
  • digital phenotyping
  • digital therapies
  • evidence-based psychotherapy
  • global mental health
  • Hierarchical Tax­onomy of Psychopathology
  • incremental integration
  • Mental disorder
  • paradigm shifts
  • personalized psychiatry
  • psychiatric nosology
  • Research Domain Criteria
  • task-sharing approaches


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