Neurosis is a term generally used to describe a nonpsychotic mental illness which triggers feelings of distress and anxiety and impairs functioning.
The word neurosis means "nerve disorder," and was first coined in the late eighteenth century by William Cullen, a Scottish physician. Cullen's concept of neurosis encompassed those nervous disorders and symptoms that do not have a clear organic cause. Sigmund Freud later used the term anxiety neurosis to describe mental illness or distress with extreme anxiety as a defining feature.
There is a difference of opinion over the clinical use of the term neurosis today. It is not generally used as a diagnostic category by American psychologists and psychiatrists any longer, and was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980 with the publication of the third edition (it last appeared as a diagnostic category in DSM-II ). Some professionals use the term to describe anxious symptoms and associated behavior, or to describe the range of mental illnesses outside of the psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia , delusional disorder ). Others, particularly psychoanalysts (psychiatrists and psychologists who follow a psychoanalytical model of treatment, as popularized by Freud and Carl Jung), use the term neurosis to describe the internal process itself (called an unconscious conflict) that triggers the anxiety characteristic.
The neurotic disorders are distinct from psychotic disorders in that the individual with neurotic symptoms has a firm grip on reality, and the psychotic patient does not. Before their reclassification, there were several major traditional categories of psychological neuroses, including: anxiety neurosis, depressive neurosis, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, somatization, posttraumatic stress disorder , and compensation neurosis—not a true neurosis, but a form of malingering , or feigning psychological symptoms for monetary or other personal gain.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th edition, text revised. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 2000.
Fenichel, Otto M. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis: 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Son. 1995.
Paula Ford-Martin, M.A.