Putting it all together: Module 1 Review

So far, we have seen that abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that studies unusual patterns of behavior, emotion and thought, which may or may not be understood as precipitating a mental disorder. Although many behaviors could be considered as abnormal, this branch of psychology typically deals with behavior in a clinical context. There is a long history of attempts to understand and control behavior deemed to be aberrant or deviant (statistically, functionally, morally or in some other sense), and there is often cultural variation in the approach taken. The field of abnormal psychology identifies multiple causes for different conditions, employing diverse theories from the general field of psychology and elsewhere, and much still hinges on what exactly is meant by "abnormal". There has traditionally been a divide between psychological and biological explanations, reflecting a philosophical dualism in regard to the mind-body problem. There have also been different approaches in trying to classify mental disorders.

We also examined the question of what abnormal behavior is by first looking at what normal behavior is. What emerged was a general set of guidelines focused on mental illness as causing dysfunction, distress, deviance, and at times, being dangerous for the afflicted and others around him/her. From this we classified mental disorders in terms of their occurrence, cause, course, prognosis, and treatment. The mental health community currently uses five diagnostic criteria to measure abnormality: (1) clinical significance, (2) dysfunction in psychological, biological, or developmental processes, (3) significant distress or disability, (4) behavior that cannot be defined as “deviant” in terms of sociopolitical conflicts, and (5) behavior that must reflect dysfunction in the individual. Although these five criteria can serve as the basis for defining abnormality, interaction often occurs. Therefore, questions about normality and abnormality are basic to our understanding of psychological disorders. They can affect us in very personal ways.

We acknowledged that mental illness is stigmatized in our society and provided a basis for why this occurs and what to do about it. Social impact can affect psychological disorders. Social attitudes toward people with psychological disorders range from discomfort to prejudice. Language, humor, and stereotypes all portray psychological disorders in a negative light. Stereotypes then result in social discrimination, which only serves to complicate the lives of the affected even more. This involved a discussion of the history of mental illness and current views and trends. Three prominent themes in explaining psychological disorders that recur throughout history include spiritual, humanitarian, and scientific explanations. Spiritual explanations regard abnormal behavior as the product of possession by evil or demonic spirits. Humanitarian explanations view psychological disorders as the result of cruelty, stress, or poor living conditions. Scientific explanations look for causes that we can objectively measure, such as biological alterations, faulty learning processes, or emotional stressors. Causes of abnormality incorporate biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Scientists use the term biopsychosocial to refer to the interaction between these factors and their role in the development of an individual’s symptoms.

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. The word scientific is key as psychology adheres to the strictest aspects of the scientific method and uses five main research designs in its investigation of mental disorders – observation, case study, surveys, correlational research, and experiments. We concluded the module by looking at these designs used by various mental health professionals, societies and journals in order to provide additional means to communicate findings or to be good consumers of psychological inquiry.

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