Abnormal Psychology

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 16 December 2016

Abnormal Psychology

As many know Psychology is the study of the human mind, consciousness, and behavior. Psychology is also an enormous field of study and contains many sub divisions that pertain to more specific areas of the human psyche. One of these subdivisions is the study of Abnormal Psychology. Abnormal psychology focuses studies on an atypical region of any particular society, as to find out why these abnormalities occur. These conditions can vary in how abnormal they are from barely noticeable to extremes that require special needs.

Examples of these could be a mild case of depression (not as noticeable) to a severe case of Schizophrenia (extremely noticeable). Various examples will be addressed and explained but first, in order to fully understand the process of abnormal psychology one must know the difference between normal and abnormal. (Mcleod) As individuals one decides what one likes or dislikes, but not what “normal” society is to like or dislike. Defining what normal is can be harder than one may think.

Researchers have worked for years to clearly define normal with no luck in getting a precise definition to relate human behavior to. Normal psychology is defined by the time, place, and people involved, thus making it difficult because culture changes with evolution and values. In order for one to define abnormal psychology, an individual must first define normal psychology. Understanding that normal psychology is outlining what are acceptable actions helps one understand abnormal psychology is dependent on the situation for a definition.

Abnormal psychology is best defined as a deviation from what a group decides is acceptable or unacceptable. Psychologist use synonyms for abnormal, such as unusual or maladaptive, to define characteristic traits on a scale with normal in the middle and barriers on each side of normal to compensate for the recurring abnormal behavior, any behavior past those barriers is considered extremely opposite of the norm and rare. There are few true experiments done on abnormal psychology because it is not ethical to manipulate an experiment to control certain conditions.

Determining if something or someone is presenting normal or abnormal behavior depends on the object or the person. There are a few mental disorders and illnesses that better compare and contrast aspects of abnormal psychology to normal psychology; a somewhat common disorder is Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, many wonder about what this illness is. This disorder was once described as manic depressive disorder; symptoms of this disorder include but are not limited to periods of deep depression which may alternate with mania.

Mania is described as a unique state of mind in which a person may feel invincible or that anything in the world is possible for them to accomplish (Abell & Ey, July). Individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder can go long periods of time without sleep or have the polar opposite and have extreme amounts of energy. There are approximately 1-2% of adults in the world diagnosed with bipolar disorder; while scientists do not yet know what causes the chemical changes in the brain they do know that this disorder does have a genetic component.

Some scientists believe that bipolar disorder is linked with network connectivity in the brain, it has been shown with neuroscience that neurocognitive abnormalities, particularly in executive function tasks which link to the frontal cortex. However studies have shown that there are no major losses of grey matter in the cortex but there are several changes in the white matter (Ferrier, April). Another fairly common disorder amongst abnormal psychology is Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a genetic condition which causes delays in physical and intellectual development. It has been studied and found to occur once in every 691 births.

A person who has Down syndrome has an extra chromosome so instead of having 46 they have 47 chromosomes. Down syndrome is usually detected at birth or very shortly after, it is a disorder that can also be detected by genetic testing while the child is in utero. This disorder is confirmed by a chromosome study called a karyotype. A karyotype provides a visual study of the chromosomes grouped by their size, number and shape they are studied by examining blood and tissue cells. Scientists believe the cause of Down syndrome is that there is an error in the cell division this is called nondisjunction.

Psychologists and scientists alike do not know why this occurs but it is known that this phenomenon occurs at conception and there is nothing the mother could have done during pregnancy to avoid such from happening (National Association for Down Syndrome, 2012). These two disorders are caused by actual chemical and genetic differences in the brain where as the next two examples are illnesses that are linked to more subtle differences that are much less noticeable at first glance. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that makes it hard to tell what is real and what is not.

People with this illness hear voices in their heads and often times think people are plotting to harm them in some way. For this reason, they will seem agitated or will tend to separate themselves from society. About one percent of Americans suffer from this mental illness. People with this illness do not make sense when they talk and can sit for hours without moving. Family’s that have loved ones with this illness are largely affected by this, because people with schizophrenia often times have difficulty maintaining a job and become very dependent on close relatives.

Dyslexia is a reading disability that happens when the brain does not process or recognize certain symbols. People that suffer from dyslexia have a brain that takes longer to make connections and does it in more steps. Often times people with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters with the sounds and combination the letters make. When these individuals struggle with this step, it makes the remaining process of steps for the brain even more difficult. A majority of people with dyslexia are really intelligent and can often times retain a lot of information but reading poses a real challenge for them.

Dyslexia is actually very common today but is still widely considered a mental illness because of the brains connectivity issues. These four examples show that abnormal psychology not only focuses the rare or uncommon disorders but includes even many of the vast common illnesses of today. Each of the disorders and illnesses listed have several approaches for healing and therapy, this is because of the different views and thought processes from each of the schools of thought give several alternatives. Each school of psychology has a different theory of how the mind works and where mental disorders originate.

Thusly, each school has its own way of addressing psychological problems. The most common schools of thought used in therapy are: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and biological (Mote, 2013). In psychodynamic theory, it is believed that mental disorders originate from tension between your conscious and unconscious mind. This is usually caused by some kind of trauma, physical or emotional, from childhood. Psychoanalysis, a lengthy form of therapy that attempts to bring awareness to the unconscious elements of a person’s mind, is the preferred form of treatment in the psychodynamic school (Mote, 2013).

Cognitive-behavioral theory focuses, “on the person’s life as it is now – the current and conscious thought patterns and behaviors” (Mote, 2013). Basically, this school of thought focuses on what we are going through now and how that is affecting our mental health rather than trying to find a reason from the past. Therapy from this school focuses on how to change behaviors and will usually give “homework” to do before the next session (Mote, 2013). The theory behind cognitive therapy is that problematic thinking patterns, called cognitive distortions, are the stimulus for psychological disorders (Mote, 2013).

These are considered to be automatic thoughts rather than unconscious like in previous schools. Therapy in this school consists of identifying and altering the cognitive distortions in order to bring a resolution to the disorder (Mote, 2013). Humanistic therapy focuses on the individual and their defining qualities, what makes them special and unique. Therapists of this school try to make their clients aware of their emotions, values, and motivations to bring about change to their psyche (Mote, 2013). One of the most important parts of therapy in this school is the relationship between the therapist and their client.

The goal is, “establishing and maintaining a sense of acceptance and respect for the client” (Mote, 2013), this is considered a hallmark of the school and is one of the most valuable techniques a therapist can use. Biological theory believes that mental disorders are caused by the brains pathology, essentially saying that the brain itself is flawed and causing the problems (Mote, 2013). The most common therapy for this is the use of medications, called pharmacotherapy; only a physician can prescribe these medications.

Most of the medications focus on neural transmitter points and work to either increase or decrease the amount of activity in these sites (Mote, 2013). Even though each school of psychology approaches mental disorders differently, each method of therapy is affective against psychological issues. Every school may not be best for everyone though; finding a therapy that works for the individuals needs is key.

In conclusion abnormal psychology is yet a small branch of the vast tree that is “psychology”, yet still provides extremely important studies which help ociety define that what is “normal”. Abnormal Psychology will always be a changing field as is normal psychology; it is defined by what society sees as abnormal and normal. A recent example of this could be homosexuality vs. drunk driving, the two as seen in societies eyes have switched from being accepted and unaccepted in the last 60 years. Whichever way society progresses will help better define what truly abnormal behavior is, and with the several schools of thought at its disposal hopefully society can continue helping those in need.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 16 December 2016

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