Psych 510: Critical Issues in Child Psychopathology

Course Type: Undergraduate depth (typical enrollment: 150+, juniors and seniors)
Instructor: Professor James Li
Requisites: Psych 405 or 460 (or Psych 509 or 560 prior to Fall 2017)
Course Credits: 4 credits
Normally taught: Every fall semester

Course Summary: This course provides in-depth coverage on the scientific study of common mental disorders of childhood and adolescence. We will discuss the core characteristics of various mental disorders and explore some of the major issues plaguing the study and treatment of these disorders from a scientific lens.  Some questions we will tackle in this class include: Why hasn’t mental health been prioritized in children? Is there an alternative to the DSM, and what does the future of mental health science and practice look like without it? Do antidepressants “work” for children and adolescents? To what extent are psychosocial interventions cross-culturally sensitive? Answers to these questions, among many others, have significant public health implications. By the end of this course, students are expected to develop a strong foundational knowledge in child mental health science and practice, stronger critical thinking skills, and new ideas to address some of the gaps and limitations in the field.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World: You will develop an understanding about how cultural factors affect our conceptualization of mental disorders. We will focus on individual differences in mental disorders by exploring how they are influenced by the interplay between both biology and environments.
  • Intellectual and Practical Skills: A core goal of this course is to develop your critical thinking skills. You will learn to question how conclusions are drawn from the data and to make connections between scientific studies and their applications to the real world.
  • Personal and Social Responsibilities: You will be strongly encouraged throughout the course to think about research as a tool for affecting change for all people, and not just for selective populations. You will be introduced to the tension between science and clinical practice in the field and develop the foundations and skills for bridging this gap (as opposed to widening it by only focusing on one aspect).
  • Integrative Learning. Given the wide-ranging disorders covered in the class, you will be exposed to an array of material from within the psychological sciences (clinical psychology, developmental psychology) as well as from disciplines outside of psychology, including in anthropology, sociology, public health, epidemiology, neuroscience, and genetics. We will use a variety of learning approaches, such as demonstrations of evidence-based treatments for children and families, videos and case studies, debates, and in-depth discussions around major research findings to help you appreciate the complexity of the field.

Course Format: This course will not follow the format of a traditional Abnormal Psychology course. For each topic, I will provide some general background and research findings on a disorder of interest, followed by an in-depth exploration on a critical issue about that disorder or topic. Rather than spend too much valuable class time on mundane details that you can easily google or read from your textbook ahead of time, most of class time will be spent exploring seminal and/or brand-new research regarding the causes of the disorder (i.e., focusing on neurobiological factors like genes, deficits in neural development), demonstrating evidence-based treatments, and/or assessing a theory or perspective from a critical lens. Each week, you will convene in your sections to have discussions centered around the assigned readings.