Feature

As David Watson, PhD, takes the helm of APA's Journal of Abnormal Psychology, he aims for nothing less than to change how people understand psychopathology.

How? By emphasizing research on underrepresented cultures, welcoming studies on rarely covered disorders and making the journal more accessible to other types of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists.

"My goal is to increase the visibility and impact of the journal," says Watson, a University of Iowa psychology professor whose six-year term as editor begins in January 2006. "We deal with practical information about the nature, symptoms and courses of important disorders, and that has broad implications for diagnosing problems. We could do more to have psychiatrists read it and see how it can help them in their own work."

When he begins accepting manuscripts next month, Watson will meet his goal by seeking studies with clear significance in their findings.

"We can do a better job drawing out why these data are interesting and translating them in accessible ways," he says. "I encourage authors to be explicit about their take-home message."

Also, he will look for studies that consider how cultural factors affect how people express disorders. He notes, for example, that although lack of energy is a valid symptom of depression in many groups, it's not clear whether it is an appropriate indicator in other populations and cultures.

"I would like to see papers that take an intelligent and sophisticated look at cultural-specific expressions of psychopathology in underrepresented groups," he explains. "If we try to import a particular model into a different culture, are symptoms organized differently?"

Watson, who has more than 17 years of experience as a consulting and associate editor to the journal, would also like to see other paper topics, such as research on sleep, dissociative and somatoform disorders.

Watson hopes the journal's findings ultimately convince psychologists and other mental health professionals working with psychopathology to refine the definitions of key disorders before they become codified in the forthcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

"I think that the next important step is to propose practical alternatives to the current system that represent a significant improvement," he says.

For example, though obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) currently has just a single diagnosis in DSM-IV, research indicates the disorder actually is composed of diverse symptoms--including "checking," such as constantly trying the door to ensure that it's locked, and "washing," such as incessantly scrubbing your hands.

Since research indicates these two subtypes differ in many ways, Watson says, the optimal treatment for them is likely to be different. That difference has important clinical implications: A more nuanced, refined understanding of the disorder can lead to more targeted and effective treatments, Watson says.

"If psychologists want to make an impact on DSM-V, I see my editorial regime as being the key era to do it," he notes, explaining that he can best do that by publishing special sections--four or five related articles alongside expert commentary--advocating and suggesting more precise definitions of various disorders. He aims to establish an editorial board meeting during each APA Annual Convention to plan future sections of this type.

Also, Watson hopes to honor the journal's centennial year in 2006 with a special section or issue. For a journal whose history includes articles by Carl Jung and papers on demonic possession, a retrospective should prove fascinating, Watson says.

"The centennial should be a look back, tracing the understanding of disorders and how studies conveyed them within the journal over the past century," Watson explains. "It can tell us a great deal about where we've been and where we're going."

That rich history has repeatedly brought Watson back to the journal for the past 17 years, he says. "Working with Abnormal has always been a labor of love for me."

Further Reading

Beginning Jan. 1, authors may submit manuscripts electronically to Watson at APA Journals.