Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with psychopathology and abnormal behavior. The term covers a broad range of disorders, from depression to obsession-compulsion to sexual deviation. Counselors, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists often work directly in this field.
Understanding Abnormal Psychology
In order to understand abnormal psychology, it is essential to first understand what we mean by the term "abnormal." On the surface, the meaning seems obvious; abnormal indicates something that is outside of the norm. But are we talking about the norms of a particular group, gender or age? Many human behaviors can follow what is known as the normal curve. Looking at this bell-shaped curve, the majority of individuals are clustered around the highest point of the curve, which is known as the average. People who fall very far at either end of the normal curve might be considered "abnormal."
It is important to note that the distinctions between normal and abnormal are not synonymous with good or bad. Consider a characteristic such as intelligence. A person who falls at the very upper end of the curve would fit under our definition of abnormal; this person would also be considered a genius. Obviously, this is an instance where falling outside of the norms is actually a good thing.
When you think about abnormal psychology, rather than focus on the distinction between what is normal and what is abnormal, focus instead on the level of distress or disruption that a troubling behavior might cause. If a behavior is causing problems in a person's life or is disruptive to other people, then this would be an "abnormal" behavior that may require some type of mental health intervention.
Perspectives in Abnormal Psychology
There are a number of different perspectives used in abnormal psychology. While some psychologists or psychiatrists may focus on a single perspectives, many mental health professionals use elements from multiple areas in order to better understand and treat psychological disorders.
- Behavioral: The behavioral approach to abnormal psychology focuses on observable behaviors. In behavioral therapy, the focus is on reinforcing positive behaviors and not reinforcing maladaptive behaviors. This approach targets only the behavior itself, not the underlying causes.
- Medical: The medical approach to abnormal psychology focuses on the biological causes on mental illness. This perspective emphasizes understanding the underlying cause of disorders, which might include genetic inheritance, related physical disorders, infections and chemical imbalances. Medical treatments are often pharmacological in nature, although medication is often used in conjunction with some other type of psychotherapy.
- Cognitive: The cognitive approach to abnormal psychology focuses on how internal thoughts, perceptions and reasoning contribute to psychological disorders. Cognitive treatments typically focus on helping the individual change his or her thoughts or reactions. Cognitive therapy might also be used in conjunction with behavioral methods in a technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Types of Psychological Disorders
Psychological disorders are defined as patterns of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple areas of life. These mental disorders create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms. How are these disorders categorized and defined? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health professionals for a variety of purposes. The manual contains a listing of psychiatric disorders, diagnostic codes, information on the prevalence of each disorder and diagnostic criteria.
Categories of psychological disorders include:
- Adjustment Disorders
- Mood Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
- Developmental Disorders
- Cognitive Disorders
Learn more about the different psychological disorders that are studied and treated within the field of abnormal psychology in this list of psychological disorders.
More About Abnormal Psychology
- How to Become a Therapist
- What Is a Psychological Disorder?
- The Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist
- Types of Therapy
- Who Can Provide Psychotherapy?
- What Is Group Therapy?
- What Is Art Therapy?
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