69989 - Differential Psychopathology.

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Gender equality

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student will be able to:
- understand the key concepts for defining and explaining the psychopathology on the basis of bio-psycho-social perspective; 
- recognize psychopathological signs and symptoms;
- classify psychopathological signs and symptoms into syndromes, on the basis of diagnostic classifications;
- make a differential diagnosis between the syndromes

Course contents

Introduction to psychopathology. Definition of psychopathology. Key concepts in clinical psychology to define, categorize, explain and treat the psychopathological disorders: the importance of context in defining and understanding abnormal behaviors; the continuum between normal and pathological behavior.


Historical and cultural relativism in defining and classifying psychopathology; the advantages and limits of diagnosis; the principle of multiple causality; the connection between the mind and the body. The functional and operational definition of mental disorder in the DSM-5. Integrating cross-evaluation of the psychological functioning and higher mental functions with the longitudinal evaluation of the patient's history. Reconstruction of mental examination of the patient by observation of mental functions.


The importance of conducting a systematic clinical interview in order to evaluate the patient and formulate a diagnosis. Strategies for the establishment of the relationship. Techniques to obtain clinical information. Mental status assessment of the subject through observation, conversation and inquiry. The anamnestic information of the subject.


Personality disorders. Diagnostic criteria. Formulation of the differential diagnosis by the identification of stimulus event and perception, behavioral and emotional response to the stimulus. Differential diagnosis between cluster A personality disorders and schizophrenia. Differential diagnosis between antisocial personality disorder and psychotic disorders. Differential diagnosis between borderline personality disorder and psychotic, depressive and bipolar disorders. Distinction between overt and covert narcissism. Differential diagnosis between avoidant personality disorder and covert narcissism. Subtypes of narcissism. Differential diagnosis between avoidant personality disorder and generalized anxiety.


Anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder. Panic disorder and agoraphobia. Phobias: social phobia and specific phobias. Differential diagnoses. 


Spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders. Diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, hoarding, trichotillomania, skin excoriation. Differential diagnosis between body dysmorphic and psychotic disorder. Differential diagnosis between hoarding disorder and collecting. Differential diagnosis between hoarding disorder and organic hoarding. Differential diagnosis between obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, social phobia, major depressive disorder, dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, skin excoriation, psychotic disorders. Differential diagnosis between obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding.


Bipolar disorders. Diagnostic criteria for bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder and cyclothymic disorder and differential diagnoses.


Psychotic disorders (schizophrenic spectrum). Positive and negative symptoms. Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder, delusional disorder, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder. Differential diagnosis between schizophrenia and generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder. Differential diagnosis between delusional disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Diagnostic criteria for Catatonia. Differential diagnosis between depressive and catatonic stupor.


Depressive disorders. Diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Differential diagnosis between persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder. Differential diagnosis of avoidant behavior in major depressive disorder, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Differential diagnosis between major depressive disorder and major neurocognitive disorder due to Alzheimer's disease.


Disorders related to traumatic and stressful events. Diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and differential diagnosis.


Dissociative disorders. The five symptoms of dissociation. Diagnostic criteria for dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia and depersonalization disorder/de-realization. Differential diagnosis between dissociative identity disorder and bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder. Differential diagnosis between dissociative amnesia and neurocognitive disorders.


Substance-related disorders and addiction. Differential diagnosis of substance-related disorders.


Eating disorders and differential diagnoses.


Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and differential diagnosis.



The course will take place during the second semester (from March to May 2022) at the Cesena Campus of the School of Psychology and Education (address: p.zza A. Moro, 90).


American Psychiatric Association (2013). DSM-5: Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders - Fifth edition. American Psychiatric Publishing: Arlington, VA.


Sanavio E. (a cura di) (2016). Manuale di psicopatologia e psicodiagnostica. Il Mulino: Bologna.

Emmelkamp PM, Kamphuis JH (2007). Personality disorders. Psychology Press.


Teaching methods

The teaching methods consist of clinical case reports: the aim of this teaching method is to draw the student's attention to the key features of different psychopathological disorders and their differential diagnosis.

Attendance in the course is strongly reccomended because it is preparatory for the learning.

Assessment methods

The final exam aims to assess the achievement of the main learning objectives:

- to understand the key concepts of psychopathology from the bio-psycho-social point of view;

- to recognize psychopathological signs and symptoms, framing them within the main diagnostic classifications;

- to make differential diagnosis between different psychopathological syndromes.

The exam ascertains the acquisition of the above-mentioned learning objectives by means of a written test (time: 60 minutes). It is not possible to take an oralexamination. The use of notes, books or other instruments (such as dictionary) during the test is not allowed. No pre-requisite is required to take the exam.

The written test consists of the identification, on the basis of the illustration of a clinical case, of potential psychopathological conditions according to the DSM, and the relative differential diagnoses. The identification of one or more psychopathological pictures allows to obtain a maximum of 10 points, while the other 20 points will be obtained on the basis of the discussion of the differential diagnostic pictures. "Laude" is given when the diagnostic hypotheses and the differential diagnostic pictures are evaluated with the maximum score for completeness and correctness. The test is considered passed with a final grade of at least 18/30.

In order to attend the test, AlmaEsami registration is required. Those who do not succeed to register their attendance to the test within the due date should report the problem to the didactic office promptly .

It is possible to view the test and ask questions to the teacher by appointment. The student has to accept/refuse the grade on AlmaEsami website and his/her presence during verbalization is not necessary. Graduating students who succeed the exam and need to verbalize the grade with urgency are invited to notify the teacher by e-mail immediately after passing the test.

Teaching tools

PowerPoint projector.

Office hours

See the website of Chiara Rafanelli