Jerome C. Wakefield

University Professor; Professor of Social Work; Professor of the Conceptual Foundations of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; Associate Faculty, NYU Center for Bioethics, College of Global Public Health; Affiliate Faculty, NYU Center for Ancient Studies; Honorary Faculty, Psychoanalytic Association of New York, affiliated with NYU School of Medicine
(212) 998-5934

Areas of Expertise

Conceptual foundations of clinical theory; philosophy of psychopathology; psychiatric epidemiology of depression; integrative clinical theory; Freud studies


Jerome Wakefield is a Professor at NYU Silver as well as an NYU University Professor with multidisciplinary appointments. His clinical training and experience have been within the mental health field and were integrative, including psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and family training, with work in agencies as well as private practice. He was for many years a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey.

Dr. Wakefield’s scholarly specialty is the conceptual foundations of clinical theory. He is the author of more than 300 publications appearing in journals and books in psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and social work, dealing with issues at the intersection of philosophy and the mental health professions. Much of his recent work has concerned the concept of mental disorder, especially how normal negative responses to a problematic social environment can be distinguished from mental disorder and how DSM diagnostic criteria fail to adequately draw this distinction. Dr. Wakefield rejects both the anti-psychiatric critique that holds that there is no such thing as mental disorder other than as a label for socially disvalued conditions, and the standard psychiatric position that any well-defined syndromal set of symptoms can define a disorder. He argues for a middle ground position in which the concept of a physical or mental medical disorder is a hybrid value and scientific concept requiring both harm, assessed according to social values, and dysfunction, anchored in facts about evolutionary design. Unlike the anti-psychiatric view, Dr. Wakefield’s "harmful dysfunction" analysis offers a position from which to mount meaningful and constructive criticism of standard psychiatric diagnostic criteria based on assumptions about disorder that, he argues, lie at the foundation of psychiatry itself. This work has been widely recognized. For example, in 1995, NIMH held a conference of leading researchers on conduct disorder devoted to exploring the implications of Dr. Wakefield's views for that field. In 1999, a special issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology was devoted to his views; his “harmful dysfunction” analysis of the concept of mental disorder is currently the most cited approach in the psychological literature for distinguishing mental disorder from normal-range distress and suffering due to environmental stressors. His analysis is widely cited in abnormal psychology and introductory psychology textbooks; and many articles have appeared in journals devoted to analyzing and critiquing his views.

In addition to his work on mental disorder, Dr. Wakefield is known for his analysis of the profession of social work as a field properly concerned with "minimal distributive justice," a view on which he has elaborated in a series of articles on the conceptual foundations of social work. In this work, using John Rawls' theory of justice as a framework, Dr. Wakefield attempts to integrate the traditional justice-oriented essential mission of social work with the profession's clinical focus via an account of “psychological justice,” the psychological features individuals need in order to participate effectively in our society given its special values and opportunities. Dr. Wakefield has also made substantial contributions to the conceptual foundations of psychoanalysis, especially in a series of articles excavating the linkages between Freud's approach to the mind and current cognitive science approaches. Recent publications include critiques of some aspects of the "relational" approach to the mind in psychoanalysis, and a series of articles examining Freud’s case history of “Little Hans.” Other topics of his scholarship range from an elaboration of a Platonic version of Erikson's concept of generativity to the implications of Continental phenomenology for the psychoanalysis of personality disorders.
Current projects include a series of articles using large psychiatric epidemiological data sets to explore issues of diagnostic validity for mental disorders, particularly depression and substance dependence. He is also completing a two-volume analysis of Freud’s case of Little Hans from philosophy-of-science and Foucaultian perspectives. His most recent book is Freud and Philosophy of Mind, Volume 1: Reconstructing the Argument for Unconscious Mental States (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

In April 2007, Dr. Wakefield was the lead author of a paper published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, “Extending the Bereavement Exclusion for Major Depression to Other Losses: Evidence From the National Comorbidity Survey.” The article described ways that symptoms of intense sadness due to a variety of losses may resemble those of major depressive disorder (MDD), but may not indicate a mental disorder. The publication, which challenged conventional thinking on the manifestations of depression, also gained national and international coverage in outlets that included The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, BBC World News, The Boston Globe, National Public Radio, and ABC World News with Charles Gibson. His subsequent work on depression, grief, and sadness and the boundary between normal and disordered emotions has continued to draw media attention, including an appearance on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

A book by Wakefield on this topic, written with Rutgers sociologist Allan Horwitz and titled The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder, was published in 2007 by Oxford University Press. This book won the Association of American Publishers’ award as the Best Psychology Book of 2007. Three conferences were held in Paris in summer 2010 on themes in Dr. Wakefield's work on depression. A second book with coauthor Horwitz, All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

Current and recent Board memberships include:

Editorial Board, Clinical Social Work Journal

Editorial Board, Evolutionary Psychology

Editorial Board, Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences (Italy, pub. in Italian as Psicoterapia e scienze umane)

Editorial Board, Mens Sana Monographs (India, pub. in English)

National Advisory Board, Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration

International Advisory Board, International Network for Philosophy and Psychiatry

Advisory Board, NYU Center for Bioethics

Advisory Board, NYU Humanities Initiative

Prior to coming to NYU, Dr. Wakefield held faculty positions at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Rutgers University.

Dr. Wakefield held post-doctoral fellowships in women's studies at Brown University’s Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, where he worked on the history of medical diagnoses of sexual dysfunction and the sex biases inherent in such diagnoses; cognitive science at University of California at Berkeley, where he worked on integrating psychodynamic theory with cognitive science; and mental health services research at Rutgers, where he worked on the validity of diagnostic criteria for mental disorder. He is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, and is a founding fellow of the Council for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. He serves on the National Advisory Board of the Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration, is an elected member of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group in Ego Psychology, and is a lecturer in psychiatry (Biometrics Unit) at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has served on the editorial boards of Social Work Research and Research on Social Work Practice, is currently on the editorial board of Psicoterapia e scienze umane, and is a regular peer reviewer for leading journals in social work, philosophy, psychiatry, and psychology.

Dr. Wakefield earned his BA from Queens College (CUNY), with concentrations in philosophy, psychology, and mathematics. He holds an MSW in clinical social work, an MA in mathematics with a specialization in logic and methodology of science (George Kelley, Thesis Chair: Evolution of the theory of proportions in ancient Greek mathematics), and two doctoral degrees, one in social welfare (Eileen Gambrill and William Runyan, Dissertation Co-Chairs: Psychosexual disorders: Studies in the role of psychotherapeutic ideology in diagnosis and treatment), and the other in philosophy (John Searle, Dissertation Chair: Do unconscious mental states exist?: Freud, Searle, and the conceptual foundations of cognitive science), all from the University of California at Berkeley.