Criminology and Forensic Psychology/life crisis and psychology


I have read that in both psychological manuals, ICD-10 and DSM-5, there are diagnoses that deal with "life crisis". These are said to be spiritual diagnoses. I know very little about how psychiatry/psychology deal with such problems. To me it sounds strange to diagnose someone with "life crisis". A life crisis could trigger a depression or anxiety problem (and then such diagnoses would be better). I don't even know if a "life crisis" is a psychological problem. It has a psychological component to it since we are humans. I have studied psychology of religion and psychology can help us understand certain aspects of religion but it's not about disorders. What can you as an expert in psychology say about this?

ANSWER: Hello Andrew

I would not call a life crisis a psychological problem. Not all unpleasant emotions are indicative of a psychological disorder. A life crisis can refer to an event in life which causes one to question their core beliefs and assumptions about themselves and the world. This can be triggered by a divorce, the death of someone close, the loss of a job, or facing a serious illness. This is not always a bad thing. We are, in part, the summation of our experiences, good and bad. A life crisis is about change and adjustment. People will experience a loss of equilibrium, and have to go through a period of questioning their view of the world and themselves, and eventually, will hopefully regain balance and integrate this experience into a new, adjusted view. In this way, it could be considered a spiritual problem, or spirituality can be enhanced- or for some- diminished- by the crisis event. (I am defining spirituality as a sense of awareness and connection with The Creator, or Author)

When one cannot integrate life changing events, and cannot resolve the internal discrepancy between their formerly held beliefs, and the contradiction that the crisis event has produced, then they may experience the onset of psychological problems, such as PTSD (Post traumatic Stress Disorder) or a depressive episode, or agoraphobia. Substance abuse can also accompany these disorders, as people use alcohol or drugs to try to regulate their mood. At this point, treatment of the disorder is indicated, through psychotherapy, meds, and lifestyle changes. The crisis itself is not a disorder, but rather the triggering event for the disorder.

FYI, the DSM 5 has fallen under very heavy criticism for over-pathologizing many behaviors which are normal variations in human experiences. Not everything that is unpleasant is sick.

Hope this helps


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QUESTION: When psychologists have patiences who have a "life crisis" how do they deal with it? I mean, they are not a priest or a rabbi so they can't talk about the meaning of life. They could talk about emotions/feeling and other psychological stuff. And would you say that friends are even more important than a psychologist when people experience a "life crisis"? And is it true that you could experience a great sadness in your heart without having a diagnosis?

The first step is a thorough evaluation to determine the patient's diagnose, and develop a treatment plan to bring relief from suffering. Serious psychological problems need  to be ruled and or addressed appropriately if present.  If the results of the eval are indicative of an existential crisis, or life crisis, there are a number of options.

I think it is a major assumption to say only  a priest or rabbi can talk about the meaning of life, and not a psychologist. I think any educated or older person will have an opinion on the meaning of life, and many intelligent and insightful younger people will have questions and musings about life, especially if they have gone through any trauma. This also assumes a psychologist cannot be a person of faith or spirituality. A good psychologist is well qualified to explore existential issues. Emotions are inseparable from existential crises.  

Friends and other social supports are definitely an effective means of coping with existential crises. The advantage of a psychologist is you are sitting with a relatively neutral, unbiased individual who has at least a decade of education and training in human behavior, and had passed a rigorous exam to ensure they meet minimum professional standards. They don't give advice, but rather expand the patient's free will by helping them find options and alternatives they have not been able to recognize.

You can definitely experience great sadness in your heart as a result of loss, repeated hardship, or demoralizing experiences. Sadness is a normal emotion, as is unhappiness. Actual depression is much more profound, and is a psychological disorder requiring treatment.  

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David A. Porter


I can answer questions related to criminal and victim psychology, serial homicide, offender rehabilitation, sociopathy, sex crimes, , drug addiction and crime, and careers in criminal justice or Substance Abuse/Mental health care. I cannot and will not answer personal legal questions, or questions related to immediate personal safety.


I have 18 years teaching undergraduate criminal justice and psychology courses, concurrent with 13 years of practice in psychotherapy, mostly seeing patients referred by the state Dept. of Corrections, or County (Youth) Court Diversion program

BA, Psychology MA, Counseling Psychology LADC ( Licensed Alcohol/Drug Counselor)

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