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Reactive psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophreniform disorder have each been considered as possible third psychoses that are separate from schizophrenia and the affective psychoses. We review the history of one of these diagnoses, reactive psychosis, and critique studies that attempt to validate the category. Studies using modern research methods with well-defined criteria based on experience with patients who have received this diagnosis should test this category more rigorously. The salient features of the diagnosis are delineated by considering the rationale for its existence and examining the empirical form it has taken. In a second paper, we explore how these features may form a basis for criteria that may provide a more meaningful category in subsequent revisions of the DSM.