Social Psychoexemplaries: The Other Side of Social Psychopathologies


What is positive social psychiatry?

positive brain

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Today is the 2-year anniversary of the full-scale unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Yesterday, the United States landed on the moon for the first time in 51 years. The invasion would seem to fall under what I have been calling our social psychopathologies like racism, sexism, ageism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, burnout, cults, and the bystanding of decreased supportive involvement. On the other hand, the moon landing would seem to fall under something socially positive, that of exploration. Then there is the recent controversial and confusing Supreme Court ruling in Alabama, making frozen embryos children under the “wrongful death” act, thereby putting a pause in the in vitro fertilization process and increasing mental distress for those trying to have children by that methodology.

Perhaps that leaves us with the question of what positive social psychiatry is. Following the development of positive psychology came positive psychiatry, which includes such characteristics as individual compassion, empowerment, engagement, and resilience.1 I have come to wonder if positive psychiatry can be expanded to positive social psychiatry, meaning to groups besides individuals. In other words, are there positive social psychiatry group characteristics? For example, take philo-Semitism as a contrast to anti-Semitism, or heroism as a contrast to bystanding.

However, besides the potential social complexities and contexts of varying values, it is the words that I have been struggling with in this work-in-progress. What would be the opposite of social psychopathologies or social disorders? For now, I coin what may be a new word: psychoexemplaries. A related alternative might be social psychoexceptionals.

Exemplary as an adjective generally refers to a desirable and positive model, representing the best of its kind. The related noun is an exemplar. Plural would be exemplars, and hence that can lead to psychoexemplaries in this imagined social classification. This is quite a mouthful, though. Perhaps it is just the social best.

How about a few more possible social best exemplars for illustration? These seem to be deserving of imitation in being beneficial to the mental well-being of others: wisdomkeepers (as used by the Lakota native Americans), peacemakers, helpers, heroes, compassionates, ethicals, and warmers (as in bringing emotional sunshine to others). This can be very tricky, though. Take unifiers. Unify for what? Hitler was a grand unifier of Germany, and followers appeared to be boosted psychologically at the great and traumatic expense of others.

Regardless, if this makes any psychological sense at all in terms of a mental health priority, what may be more important here beyond the wording is how we might be able to reduce the so-called social psychopathologies and to increase the social best models. Possible mechanisms are through child development, later positive social reinforcement, social media influences, and leadership that models and enhances what we socially need collectively for more mental health.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Jeste D. A fulfilling year of APA Presidency: from DSM 5 to positive psychiatry. Am J Psychiatry. 2013;170(10):1102-1105.

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