The temporality of "chronic" mental illness

Cult Med Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;34(1):13-28. doi: 10.1007/s11013-009-9159-x.


Although multiple concepts of time can be found in psychiatric discourses and practices, the notion of time as an absolute category seems to predominate. In particular, the notion of "chronicity" implies the persistence of symptoms over the temporal course of a disease, thereby following a logic that conceptualizes time as an objective and universal measure. I argue that such a notion of time impedes the development of patients and the metrics by which to map change. This article, therefore, aims to present a different concept of time that should enable dealing with "chronic" mental illness in more flexible and creative ways. A case study of an everyday psychiatric routine is presented, followed by an in-depth analysis of its temporal implications. I conceptualize the notion of time as an extended field, being relationally and intersubjectively structured and linked to performed activities. Such a notion of time needs to be seen as a flexible and fluid matrix that possesses the character of an event-oriented and productive space. This conception favors an individualized temporality of change, suggesting concrete therapeutic procedures that can be implemented in clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors