In non-Western and premodern societies, approaches to sickness involved moral considerations laden with existential and spiritual implications. Healers and physicians had access to this aspect of their patient's lives, were expected to use it constructively, and often did so. The contemporary biomedical theory of disease no longer assigns to illness such metaphysical connotations. While general physicians are permitted—perhaps even advised—to avoid involvement in morally laden dialogues tied to illness and the self, such dilemmas are more prominent and qualitatively different in psychiatry, as psychiatric conditions often entail changes in self-conception, psychological disaffection, unacceptable behavior, and untoward personal reactions to social circumstances. Manifestations of psychiatric conditions can overwhelm an individual's control in areas of cognition, emotion, autonomy, social responsibility, behavior, and body functions—exactly those matters that "modern" individualistic minds are supposed to master. Consequently, psychiatric conditions challenge basic presuppositions of the modern, secular credo about personhood, disease, and behavior. They comprise a species of human problems ontologically distinct from the conditions handled by other medical disciplines.


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pp. 586-601
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