Introduction to Psychopathology


Although mental health difficulties appear to be rising amongst Westernised populations, there are conflicting explanatory models regarding why this should be the case. This 10-week class will consider whether the field of contemporary psychiatry has advanced sufficiently to adequately explain why individuals develop psychological disorders and, moreover, why advances in understanding mental health do not necessarily correlate with an increase in treatment efficacy.

We will explore the impact of socio-cultural, economic and environmental factors on the development of psychopathology and evaluate evidence which suggests that aspects of modern life may be contributing to the rise in mental ill health. We will consider the evidence base for the categorisation and diagnosis of psychological disorders, comparing and contrasting this perspective with alternative explanatory paradigms, including an understanding of the importance of psychological diversity and the link between creativity, intelligence and madness.

We will evaluate the range of ways in which mental health and wellbeing can be improved, through changes in self-management and the ways in which we interact with each other and our environment. Finally, we will explore how we might support those who experience mental health difficulties more effectively. 

Programme details

Course begins: 24th Apr 2024

Week 1: What is 'mental health'? A broad overview of what constitutes mental health.

Week 2: A history of diagnosis: a look back at the ways in which psychopathology has been          understood in the past and how this compares to contemporary understanding.

Week 3: Diagnosis versus formulation: an exploration of the merits of the categorisation of disorder, compared with formulation as a framework for conceptualising distress.

Week 4: A history of treatment: a consideration of the various historical and contemporary approaches to treating individuals who experience psychological distress.

Week 5: Models of distress: the impact of relationships, particularly in early life, on the development of psychopathology.

Week 6: Models of distress: how relatively recent changes in society and in the environment may adversely impact upon mental health.

Week 7: It's all in the genes: we will consider some of the biological explanations for individual susceptibility, including epigenetics and the impact of the environment, including diet and lifestyle, on the expression of genes.

Week 8: Overcoming adversity: we will look at some of the positive aspects of mental health, including examples of individuals who have excelled in their field despite experiencing serious mental health difficulties.

Week 9: Holistic mental health: how understanding and addressing the multitude of factors which affect mental health may lead to improved outcomes.  

Week 10: Supporting the supporter: for those working in the field of mental health and for those supporting family and friends, the importance of self-care and applying the principles of holistic mental health.

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course fee £286.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Ms Sarah Ashworth

Sarah Ashworth is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has worked in the field of mental health for over 20 years, as a mental health clinician and leader in higher education and as a teacher and supervisor. She has a particular interest in holistic mental health and nutrigenomics and hold a post-graduate qualification in this area. 

Course aims

To understand the multifactorial determinants which influence the development of psychopathology and how an holistic understanding of mental health may improve outcomes for individuals experiencing mental health difficulties.

Course Objectives:

  • To introduce participants to key explanatory concepts underpinning the development of psychopathology.
  • To understand the historical, political, economic, environmental and social factors which determine current treatments for psychological disorders.
  • To gain a understanding of holistic mental health from a practitioner and personal perspective.

Teaching methods

Lectures, seminars, use of audiovisual equipment, dyad, triad and small group exercises.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • understand the current and historical sociocultural context of psychopathology;
  • understand the many factors which influence the development of psychopathology; and
  • understand what helps and how to support someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties.

Assessment methods

One 1,500 word essay with a choice of topics related to the course material.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)