Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.39 MB)

What is Mental Disorder? Developing an Embodied, Embedded, and Enactive Psychopathology

Download (1.39 MB)
posted on 2021-12-08, 18:17 authored by Kristopher NielsenKristopher Nielsen

What we take mental disorder to be has implications for how researchers classify, explain, and treat mental disorders. It also shapes how the public treat those who are experiencing mental disorder. This is the often-underemphasized task of conceptualization, which sits at the foundation of psychopathology research. In this thesis I consider the nature of mental disorder through the lens of a growing perspective known as embodied enactivism. Embodied enactivism is a philosophical position on human functioning that holds the mind to be: embodied (non-cartesian, and constituted by both brain and body), embedded (richly influenced by the physical and social environment across development), and enactive (meaning and experience arise through the precarious organisms’ interactions with the world). After overviewing a selection of current conceptual positions – present either as independent conceptual frameworks or within our classification systems – I move to presenting my own conceptual framework of mental disorder grounded in an embodied, embedded, and enactive view. Some implications of this framework for the task of classification are explored, and a meta-methodological framework for developing explanations of psychopathology is developed. It is shown that the concept of mental disorder developed: moves beyond the internalist bias of many current concepts, recognizes the normative nature of disorder, encourages consideration of cultural and individual variance, does not unduly prioritize brain-level explanations of human behaviour, and can sit comfortably within a wholly natural world view.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Ward, Tony; Wilshire, Carolyn