Jerome Wakefield, PhD
Inducted in 2020
Current PositionProfessor, New York University Silver School of Social Work
Jerome Wakefield is a Professor at NYU Silver as well as an NYU University Professor with multidisciplinary appointments. His clinical training and experience have been within the mental health field and were integrative, including psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and family training, with work in agencies as well as private practice. He was for many years a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey.
Dr. Wakefield’s scholarly specialty is the conceptual foundations of clinical theory. He is the author of more than 300 publications appearing in journals and books in psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and social work, dealing with issues at the intersection of philosophy and the mental health professions. Much of his recent work has concerned the concept of mental disorder, especially how normal negative responses to a problematic social environment can be distinguished from mental disorder and how DSM diagnostic criteria fail to adequately draw this distinction. Dr. Wakefield rejects both the anti-psychiatric critique that holds that there is no such thing as mental disorder other than as a label for socially disvalued conditions, and the standard psychiatric position that any well-defined syndromal set of symptoms can define a disorder. He argues for a middle ground position in which the concept of a physical or mental medical disorder is a hybrid value and scientific concept requiring both harm, assessed according to social values, and dysfunction, anchored in facts about evolutionary design. Unlike the anti-psychiatric view, Dr. Wakefield’s “harmful dysfunction” analysis offers a position from which to mount meaningful and constructive criticism of standard psychiatric diagnostic criteria based on assumptions about disorder that, he argues, lie at the foundation of psychiatry itself. This work has been widely recognized. For example, in 1995, NIMH held a conference of leading researchers on conduct disorder devoted to exploring the implications of Dr. Wakefield’s views for that field. In 1999, a special issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology was devoted to his views; his “harmful dysfunction” analysis of the concept of mental disorder is currently the most cited approach in the psychological literature for distinguishing mental disorder from normal-range distress and suffering due to environmental stressors. His analysis is widely cited in abnormal psychology and introductory psychology textbooks; and many articles have appeared in journals devoted to analyzing and critiquing his views.