In asking the question of what abnormal psychology even is, we must quickly consider the very definition of our term ¡§abnormal¡¨. By all rights, ¡§abnormal¡¨ is an exceptionally confusing word dependent on what is called ¡§normality¡¨. Both terms may understandably change radically from one era to another and one culture to another. How then do we decide upon what is normal and what is abnormal? Indeed, this is much more of a philosophical problem than a psychological one. For understandable reasons of practicability, it is necessary to create a roughly uniform definition of abnormal psychology that we can more or less agree upon as a group of caregivers. This general definition would naturally be general in its nature, but the common definition of the discipline of abnormal psychology often looks something like this:
Abnormal psychology is the study of behavior patterns that diverge widely from generally accepted norms, especially those of a pathological nature.
Nonetheless, we can see that we are immediately at the risk of falling into tautology here. Although this definition does offer us a practical course and gives an insight into the subject of study that falls under the rubric of abnormal psychology, it does absolutely nothing to illuminate the concept of what abnormal is or how one might define abnormality in either a socially or pathologically significant sense. Indeed, part of the reason for this is that there is a variety of means of approaching a way of deciding what is to be construed as ¡§abnormal¡¨. The decision of which methodology to use can have a considerable impact on the effective sorts of behaviors that one is to consider effectively ¡§abnormal.¡¨
One simple way of parsing the difference between abnormality and normality is to use a simply statistical set of criteria. In such an instance, one simply maps out the frequency of such a behavior among the population and plots it on a graph. Then, one could measure a specific person¡¦s behavior in comparison to the graph: The defining characteristic is uncommon behavior¡Xa significant deviation from the average/majority. Many human characteristics are normally distributed . . . . Basically, we're talking about a nice symmetrical bell-shaped curve along which we can rank people: more people fall around the average; the farther away you get from the average, the fewer the people . . . . Characteristics falling beyond a particular distance from the average values are sometimes seen as abnormal. (Gilles-Thomas)
In this system then, abnormality because a relatively simple judgment based on purely statistical values, but, then again, such a judgment is not necessarily useful from the perspective of abnormal psychology. Indeed, abnormal psychology almost solely is interested in purely pathological deviations, and such a chart might not tell us whether a behavior was, in fact, pathological. Indeed, there are several other methods for defining abnormality as well, including maladaptive behavior, the violation of social norms, personal distress, deviation from an ideal, and an actually medical disorder.
It is important, when considering abnormal psychology to realize that none of these definitions is more ¡§correct¡¨ than any other definition and that all of them must be used in terms of better understanding a patient and ultimately identifying a diagnosis. It is incumbent upon the caregiver in question to use a combination of empirical know-how and subjective intuition to discover the diagnosis that fits most accurately with each unique patient¡¦s life history and set of problems: No one definition is the "correct" or the "best" definition. To a certain extent each one captures a different aspect of the meaning of abnormality. When we talk about Abnormality, or when we study it, or treat those suffering from it, we inevitably invoke one or more of these definitions, either explicitly of...