What Is a Psychotic Disorder? - Symptoms & Definition

Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

Psychotic disorders are some of the most serious mental disorders with curious and compelling symptoms. Learn about psychotic disorders and the symptoms of psychosis, then test your understanding with quiz questions.

Definition

A psychotic disorder is a mental disorder that involves symptoms of psychosis. In fact, the terms psychotic disorder and psychosis are all but interchangeable. Psychosis is a symptom marked by serious impairment in the perception of reality. There are many diagnosable mental illnesses that can have psychotic symptoms. However, experiencing psychotic symptoms does not assure diagnosis. People can experience symptoms of psychosis without having a psychotic disorder.

Symptoms of Psychosis

The word psychosis comes from the Greek word psyche, meaning mind, and osis, meaning illness. The signs of psychosis are not wholly agreed upon by all psychologists, but psychiatrists use their professional skills and training to diagnose a psychotic disorder. Despite some rare exceptions, psychosis generally involves one or both of the following symptoms.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations are experiences that are perceived by an individual as real, but do not reflect reality. Hallucinations can occur as any type of sensory experience, including visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations and even hallucinations of smell, taste and touch. Auditory hallucinations are by far the most common type of hallucination and are often experienced as hearing voices. These voices can be familiar or unfamiliar, and may involve conversation between the voice and the person experiencing the hallucination. Experiences of seeing things that are not there are called visual hallucinations.

All types of hallucinations are very real to the person seeing or hearing them. Scientists have confirmed the genuine nature of hallucinations by scanning images of the brain. They have found that all the same areas responsible for normal hearing are active during a hallucination. It is important to recognize that some hallucinations are a cultural, often religious experience, and are not considered to be signs of a psychotic disorder. For example, hearing voices during a time of grief is normal for some people of Native American cultures.

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