The relevance of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to mental disorders and their treatment

Geoffrey M. Reed, William D. Spaulding, Lynn F. Bufka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


This article examines the potential usefulness of the ICF in the treatment of mental disorders. We suggest that there is a poor fit between the nature of mental disorders and the dominant model of health care based on the treatment of acute medical illness. An overemphasis on diagnosis has contributed to a bias toward pharmacotherapy and underuse of psychological treatments for people with mental disorders. Mental disorders are more accurately conceptualized as chronic conditions, in which the person's pattern of functioning rather than diagnosis is most important in determining what services are needed. This is particularly the case for people with serious mental illness, who may have lost the ability to carry out daily tasks, live independently, work, have interpersonal relationships, and engage in leisure pursuits. The ICF is a universal framework for describing the full range of human functioning that is highly consistent with the perspective and treatment approaches of psychiatric rehabilitation. The ICF provides a broad, transdisciplinary framework for treatment planning, defining goals, assessing progress and outcomes, and allocating resources for people with mental disorders. Extended clinical examples are provided to illustrate the potential application of the ICF in this context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-359
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2009



  • ICF
  • Mental disorder
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation
  • SMI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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