Colin DeYoung || Rethinking Mental Illness

August 9, 2021

Today it’s great to have Colin DeYoung on the podcast. Dr. DeYoung is a professor in the psychology department at the University of Minnesota and the director of the Personality, Individual Differences and Behavioral Genetics program. He researches the structures and sources of psychological traits using neuroscience methods to investigate their biological substrates. He developed a general theory of personality: Cybernetic Big Five Theory which identifies psychological functions associated with major personality traits as well as their connection to other elements of personality and various life outcomes including mental illness.


  • Definitions of mental illness
  • The problem with DSM-5’s diagnostic categories
  • The Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP)
  • What is cybernetics?
  • A Cybernetic Theory of Psychopathology
  • How Colin’s theory differs from abnormal psychology
  • Differences between mental disorder and psychopathology
  • Characteristic adaptations and personality traits
  • Moving towards a dimensional model of psychopathology
  • What qualifies as cybernetic dysfunction?
  • Narcissism, anti-social behavior, and successful psychopaths
  • Legal interventions for risky profiles without stigmatization
  • The need for non-pharmacological interventions


A Cybernetic Theory of Psychopathology [pdf]

Understanding Psychopathology: Cybernetics and Psychology on the Boundary between Order and Chaos [pdf]

A cybernetic perspective on the nature of psychopathology: Transcending conceptions of mental illness as statistical deviance and brain disease [pdf]

2 Responses to “Colin DeYoung || Rethinking Mental Illness”

  1. Jim Loving says:

    This was a great discussion. I have only listened to a few of these podcasts but decided to listen to all of this one and will now comment on it.

    I have had personal experience with a family member with severe mental illness for over 35 years. This theory is interesting, and as Dr. DeYoung points out, before it could become accepted, much would have to change within the psychiatric community, med schools, and the insurance industry – with major push back from the pharmaceutical industry to be expected.

    I suggest that Scott invite Dr. Xavier Amador onto your show. He has worked on the DSM but wrote an incredible book in 2012 – “I’m Not Sick I Don’t Need Help.” In the book, his review of the then recent literature of the 1st decade of the 21st century showed that 40% of both schizophrenics and bi-polar patients have a condition known as Anosognosia, which in layman’s terms means “Lack of insight” into the nature of their illness. These people (including my family member) do not know they have a brain disorder or if they know, for instance, that their “goals are not being met,” it is not because they have an illness or condition that makes them harbor delusions of persecution (paranoia) or delusions of grandeur, they believe their delusions and these narratives account for their condition.

    Once Amador recognized this statistic, he realized telling someone to take their medication because you are sick never works. People with Anogsognosia see the world as red when everyone else sees it as blue. So, Amador too the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that Dr. DeYoung mentioned at the 1:11:00 mark and modified into LEAP – a method of effective Listening, Empathy, Agreeing to Disagree, and Partnership.

    In other words, an approach requiring extensive “talk therapy” by skilled and trained communicators that can work with people whose lives are not working and who are not “meeting their goals.”

    The big challenge with this approach to mental illness is twofold: 1- our primary medical model is for doctors to write prescriptions and this is held up by the incredible weight and heft of the pharmaceutical industry, and 2- this approach would require MANY social workers supporting those that have great needs in society and this will require huge amounts of funding which is not available today, even ith the current drug-based model for supporting mental illness.

    However, what I take away from this approach is to double down on promoting CBT/LEAP to practitioners and loved ones of those with severe mental illness and learn effective communications to help loved ones confront their lives and why they are not “meeting their goals.”

    Thanks for the podcast Scott, keep up the great work.

  2. Mela K says:

    Thank you for this fascinating interview. As a practising psychologist I found this really thought provoking and look forward to reading more of Colin’s work. The health service I work in has strict treatment protocols per diagnosis that in my experience rarely meet the actual needs of the client. These clients are then labelled as ‘complex’ and can often fall between services and not receive timely help. A review of the utility and appropriateness of such labels for the vast majority of people is long overdue.

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