A Critical Examination of the Use of the Term and Concept of Comorbidity in Psychopathology Research


Address reprint requests and correspondence to Scott O. Lilienfeld, Department of Psychology, Emory University, 532 Kilgo Circle, Adanta, GA 30322.


The term and concept of comorbidlty has been receiving increasing currency in the psychopathology literature. Nevertheless, most uses of this term in contemporary psychopathology research do not adequately distinguish between the nature of conditions in organic medicine (which typically approximate “diseases”) and those in descriptive psychopathology (which are typically “syndromes” or, more rarely, “disorders”), and blur the distinction between latent constructs and manifest indicators. Specific problems with use of the term comorbidlty include its (a) application to childhood and personality disorders and (b) inconsistent usage. We conclude that, with the possible exception of its use to describe some organic mental disorders, application of the term comorbidlty to psychopathologlcal syndromes encourages the premature rerHcation of diagnostic entities and arguably has led to more confusion than clarification.