One of the most controversial aspects of society throughout history can be seen in the way society views people with illnesses. Often times, people persecute their fellowmen just because they do not seem “normal” or they seem to “not belong” with the current society. These problems have led to the development of a branch of psychology which aimed to look at the causes and other related information that formed these mental illnesses. This branch of psychology came to be known as abnormal psychology. Abnormal psychology is that segment of the field which studies mental illnesses and abnormal behavior.
The field covers problems such as depression, obsession, and even sexual deviation. The field also traced the symptoms, etiology, effects, and how these illnesses are maintained. Before we study abnormal psychology though, we must first look into what people see as abnormal. Historically, many of the earliest civilizations attribute mental disorders and illnesses as manifestations of evil spirits; some even have practices which remove parts of the skull using primitive tools as a means of releasing these evil spirits.
As time progressed though, people such as priests, shamans, and witch doctors have been employed to supposedly rid these individuals of the “malicious” spirits which inhabit their bodies. During the times of the Greeks and the Romans, diagnosing and identifying mental illnesses have become more scientific. However, during this period, mystical and supernatural explanations still prevail over the ideas of modern science. One example is Homer, according to him, mental illnesses are caused by God, taking away the minds of the victims.
It is not until Hippocrates wrote numerous accounts, journals, essays, papers and other scholarly work that made the study more scientific. In his papers, Hippocrates wrote about things such as psychosis, mania, phobias, and paranoia. His theory, however, still is flawed because he attributed the illnesses to four fluids in the human body: black and yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. During the middle ages, more horrifying and disturbing accounts were given, According to studies, during this period, people with mental illnesses were classified as witches, and they were “hunted” so as to rid them of the physical world.
It was further justified by the writing of the Malleus Malifacarum (Withc’s Hammer) in 1486. In 1563, a person by the name of Jahann Weyer wrote a book called De Praestigiis Daemonum (The Deception of Demons). The book discredited the beliefs that demons were the culprits in mental illnesses and instead brought out the point that natural causes may indeed result in abnormal behavior. He also looked at the possibility of the use of drugs as sparks which caused these said disorders. With his work, the study of mental abnormalities became more humanitarian and started to look for treatment, rather than damnation, for its victims.
In 1769, Benjamin Rush, a professors of chemistry and medicine at the college of Philadelphia became the father of American psychiatry. He instituted reform by putting into action several changes such as better ventilation, separation and classification of violent and non-violent patients, and created programs for recreation catering to the patients who suffer from mental illness. By 1880, Dorthea Dix, a schoolteacher from Boston started a campaign which led to the opening of 32 psychiatric hospitals which prioritized the poor and the needy.
Several other prominent people paved the way for the contemporary notion of psychopathology. Emil Kraeplin was the one who introduced to society different classifications of mental disorders. This led the way to a closer relationship between medicine and psychiatry. The classification focused on two important groups – the praecox or what is no known as the schizophrenics, and the manic-depressive psychopaths. He believed that these illnesses were caused by chemical imbalance and irregularities in other aspects of the person such as one’s metabolism.
Another important person which helped develop the field of study was Clifford Beers. Beers himself suffered a mental breakdown but was able to overcome it. Upon his recovery, he wrote a book which he titled A Mind That Found Itself. Beers and his book were responsible for the foundation of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, a branch of government which worked to prevent illnesses as well as make sure that any treatment conducted is classified as humane. Today, abnormal psychology focuses on the 4 D’s, these are distress, dysfunction, deviance, and danger.
One should note though, that these 4 d’s are seen as judgments, not objective behavior. First of all is dysfunction. Dysfunction is defined as a difficult or abnormal function. In psychology, one of the most popular diseases caused by a dysfunction of the brain is schizophrenia. This disorder is caused by enlarged ventricles, reduced blood flow to the frontal lobe, and an excess of dopamine. Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder that is characterized by people who talk to themselves, yell at someone else which seem imaginary, and other symptoms.
Another aspect of the psychopathology is distress. Distress in psychology can lead to numerous diseases, most popular of which are anorexia and bulimia. Often times, people who develop these conditions see it as a way of coping with negative emotions or painful feelings. Traumatic events in a person’s life may also trigger disorders in eating. Danger results in one of the most overlooked psychological disorder in an individual. Often times, notions of fear will develop into anxiety. Anxiety, unlike normal fear, can be characterized by four inherent characteristics.
First of all, it is defined by a specific target; secondly, anxiety is experienced in response to the target of fear; third, the target feared by the individual is avoided; and finally anxiety tends to be more chronic. One of the most interesting in the 4 d’s is deviance. We might see something as deviant behavior, but we do not know is that this deviant behavior for us is the deviant’s “normal” function. This is why this is the most blurred classification out of all of the things that we characterize as abnormal.
From here, there are three important viewpoints which look at mental disorders and their causes. These three models are the biological, psychosocial, and the socio-cultural models. First of all, the biological model looks at the brain as the cause of the abnormal behavior. According to proponents of this model, mental disorders are caused by the different chemical imbalances in the brain, and as such, leads to the difference in a person’s behavior. The socio-cultural approach looks at the role that society plays with regards to human behavior.
According to its proponents, society and culture play a major role in determining if an individual will be labeled as “mentally ill” or has a mental disorder. Often times, this is where social deviance is seen; this is due to the idea that one is deviant for a culture may be the norms of the other. Finally, the psychosocial approach looks at underlying influences which are often times unconscious. This approach looks at the childhood and past experiences of the victim. Proponents of this approach are Sigmund Freud and Josef Brener.
The approach theorizes that the disorder occurs when the individual becomes “fixated” to the stage wherein the negative experience has occurred. Looking at these evolutions in the field of abnormal psychology, it becomes positive enough that the approach, which was more of spiritual during earlier times, transforms itself into a more rational field of study. More importantly, these approaches lead us not to discriminate people with these disorders, but rather try to understand them and help them get better. Bibliography Abnormal Psychology.
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