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Abnormal Psychology

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Chapter I-A Primer on Abnormality

A. What is Abnormal Psychology?

It is a branch of psychology which deals with psychopathology (mental disorders) and abnormal behavior.

B. Why study abnormal psychology?

Abnormal behavior is part of our common experience
Lots of unanswered questions and complexities
Preparation for future careers

C. Why clarify the definition of mental disorder?

Influences what is seen as pathological
Influences explanation, classification and treatment
Clarifies the role of professionals

D. Ways of Defining Abnormality

a. Mental disorder as statistical deviance

A person has a mental disorder when their behavior, ability, or experience is significantly different from average.

Problems:
Positive” deviations are not distinguished from “negative” deviations
We do not want to call all “negative deviations a disorder.

b. Mental disorder as personal discomfort

A person has a mental disorder if they experience personal distress such as feelings of anxiety, depression, or emotional distress.

Problem :
People we would consider definitely abnormal may not feel subjective discomfort.

c. Mental disorder as norm violation or social non-conformity

A person has a mental disorder if they exhibit behaviors that are inconsistent with the norms or values of society.

Problems:
Many criminals are psychologically normal despite the fact that they are nonconformists.
What may be normal for one culture may not be normal in another culture.
There is a false belief that the society is always right and the nonconformist is always at fault.

E. Some Criteria for Abnormality

Maladaptive Behavior: Behavior that makes it difficult to function, to adapt to the environment, and to meet everyday demands

Significant impairment in psychological functioning: Those with mental illness lose the ability to control thoughts, behaviors, or feelings adequately.

Atypical behavior: behavior that is not typical of the majority of the population.

F. Two Considerations

1. Situational Context: Social situation, behavioral setting, or general circumstances in which an action takes place

2. Cultural Relativity: Judgments are made relative to the values of one’s culture.

G. Historical Perspectives On Abnormality

a. Ancient Theories

During the Stone Age, a person is suspected of being possessed by evil spirits if he or she is acting oddly.

Trephination – the process of drilling holes on the skull of people displaying abnormal behavior to allow the evil spirits to depart.
In Ancient China, they believe that insanity is a result of imbalance between the yin and yang.
In Greece, physicians rejected the supernatural explanation of mental illnesses. Hippocrates believed that imbalances in the four basic humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile) causes mental disorders.
Plato argued that madness arises when the rational mind is overcome by impulse, passion or appetite.

b. Medieval Views

Some people who have been accused of practicing witchcraft and burned at the stake may have been suffering from mental disorder that caused them to act abnormally.
Lay people still believed that mental disorders are caused by demonic possessions and curses.

c. Renaissance Period –The Growth of Asylums

General hospitals begin to include special rooms or facilities for people with mental disorders.
However, the mentally ill were considered little more than prisoners. They are often housed against their will and live in extremely harsh conditions.
Patients were exhibited to the public for a fee.

d. Moral Treatment in the 18th and 19th Century

Dorothea Dix crusaded for the moral treatment of mental patients in the United States.
Philippe Pinel, a leader in the moral movement in France, helped free mental patients from the horrible conditions of the hospitals. He rejected the supernatural theories of abnormality.
Clifford Beers, a former psychiatric patient, published a book entitled “A Mind That Found Itself” which is an autobiographical account of his hospitalization and the abuses he suffered.

e. Modern Biological Perspectives

Wilhelm Greisinger published “The Pathology and Therapy of Psychic Disorder” in 1845 which is the systematic argument that all mental disorders can be explained in terms of brain pathology.
Emil Kraepelin developed a scheme of classifying symptoms into discrete mental disorders.

f. Psychoanalytic Perspective

Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician, used hypnosis in treating the ailments of people.
Sigmund Freud believed that much of the mental life of an individual remains hidden from consciousness.
Josef Breuer encouraged his patients to talk about their problems while under hypnosis in order to elicit a catharsis.

g. Behaviorism and Cognitive Revolution

Lightner Witmer established the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania which studies the causes and treatment for mental deficiency in children.
Behaviorism: Ivan Pavlov, Burrhus Frederic Skinner, Edward Lee Thorndike.
Cognitive Psychology: Albert Bandura, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck

h. Modern Mental Health Care

By the 1960s, patients’ right movement had emerged to promote the proper and humane treatment of people with mental disorders.
Deinstitutionalization – mental patients can recover more fully or live more satisfying lives if they are integrated into the community, with the support of community-based treatment facilities.

i. Professions within Abnormal Psychology

Psychiatrists
Clinical Psychologists
Clinical Social Worker
Psychiatric Nurses

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