Understanding Models of Abnormality in Psychology

Categories: Sigmund Freud


In the realm of clinical psychology, the comprehension of abnormality has evolved significantly over time, leading to the development of various models that offer distinct perspectives on understanding and treating psychological disorders. While the historical roots of abnormality models are entwined with cultural beliefs, contemporary psychology recognizes the need for multiple models to provide comprehensive insights and treatment approaches. This essay explores six different models of abnormality, shedding light on their unique attributes, and delving into a comparative analysis between the biological model and the psychodynamic model, two contrasting yet influential paradigms in the field of psychology.

The Biological Model of Abnormality

The biological model of abnormality adopts a medical perspective, emphasizing the intricate interplay between biological factors and psychological disorders. At its core, this model attributes abnormal behavior to malfunctioning components within the human organism, with a primary focus on the brain's role in mental health. Researchers within this framework have identified correlations between cerebral anatomy abnormalities and the manifestation of psychological disorders.

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Disruptions in the transmission of neural messages are believed to contribute to the development of these disorders.

Moreover, abnormal chemical activity within the endocrine system and genetic predispositions are recognized as pivotal factors in the onset of psychological disorders. Inheritance, in particular, plays a significant role in the susceptibility to certain mood disorders, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. The biological model underlines the importance of understanding the biological underpinnings of abnormality to facilitate accurate diagnosis and treatment.

The Psychodynamic Model of Abnormality

The psychodynamic model, one of the oldest and most influential paradigms in psychology, offers a distinct perspective on the etiology of abnormal behavior.

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Rooted in the theories of Sigmund Freud, the psychodynamic model posits that an individual's behavior is a result of underlying dynamic psychological forces, whether they act independently or interact with each other. It asserts that conflicts between these dynamic forces are the driving forces behind abnormal behavior.

According to Freud, these conflicts are primarily rooted in the interplay between the id, ego, and superego—components of the human psyche. When developmental stages encounter difficulties or traumas, it may lead to unresolved conflicts that contribute to psychological abnormalities. The psychodynamic model places a strong emphasis on the unconscious mind, where repressed memories and unresolved conflicts shape behavior and emotional experiences.

Treatment Approaches: Biological vs. Psychodynamic

While both the biological and psychodynamic models aim to address psychological abnormalities, their treatment approaches diverge significantly in terms of methods and philosophies.

Biological Treatments

Biological treatments, often considered more invasive, encompass a range of interventions aimed at alleviating abnormal behavior through physiological means. These treatments include:

  • Drug Therapy: Psychotropic medications, categorized into antianxiety, antidepressant, antibipolar, and antipsychotic drugs, are administered to correct chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Used primarily for severe depression when medication proves ineffective, ECT involves the administration of electrical shocks to the brain. Its precise mechanism of action remains a subject of ongoing research.
  • Psychosurgery: Reserved for extreme cases and considered experimental, psychosurgery involves surgical interventions to alter brain structures.

Psychodynamic Treatments

Conversely, psychodynamic treatments prioritize communication and exploration of an individual's inner world as a means of understanding and addressing abnormal behavior. Key components of psychodynamic therapy include:

  • Free Association: Patients are encouraged to speak freely about their thoughts, feelings, and memories, allowing unconscious material to surface.
  • Therapist Interpretation: Therapists analyze various elements, such as dreams, resistance, and transference, to uncover underlying conflicts and repressed emotions.
  • Catharsis: Emotional release and relief are sought through the expression of repressed feelings and unresolved conflicts.

Comparative Analysis: Biological vs. Psychodynamic

Upon closer examination, the biological and psychodynamic models of abnormality emerge as contrasting approaches to understanding and treating psychological disorders. These differences are evident in their fundamental philosophies and treatment methodologies.

Philosophical Differences

The biological model, rooted in the medical perspective, views psychological abnormalities as predominantly stemming from physiological malfunctions within the brain and body. It seeks to rectify these abnormalities through the administration of medications, electrical stimulation, or surgical interventions. In essence, the biological model calls for the correction of biological irregularities through external means.

Conversely, the psychodynamic model adopts a more introspective stance, attributing abnormal behavior to unresolved conflicts and repressed memories within the individual's unconscious mind. It posits that the human psyche possesses the innate capacity to heal itself through therapy. The therapist's role is that of a "gentle guide," facilitating the exploration and resolution of inner conflicts. In essence, the psychodynamic model places trust in the individual's capacity for self-healing through therapeutic insight.

Complementary Perspectives

While the biological and psychodynamic models appear to be diametrically opposed, their differences can also be viewed as complementary rather than contradictory. Recognizing the

overlap in their potential contributions to the field of clinical psychology is essential. Both models, despite their disparities, have demonstrated their effectiveness in treating psychological disorders, albeit through distinct approaches.

The biological model's emphasis on physiological factors and medication has yielded significant advancements in the treatment of mental health conditions. Psychotropic drugs, for instance, have provided relief to countless individuals by addressing chemical imbalances in the brain. Moreover, electroconvulsive therapy, though enigmatic in its mechanism of action, has proven beneficial for individuals resistant to other forms of treatment. Psychosurgery, while considered a last resort, has shown promise in specific cases.

Conversely, the psychodynamic model's focus on introspection, communication, and uncovering repressed conflicts has also produced remarkable therapeutic outcomes. This approach acknowledges the role of the individual's psyche in healing and seeks to facilitate self-discovery and catharsis. By exploring the depths of the unconscious, individuals often gain insights into their behaviors and emotional responses, leading to profound transformations.

In practice, the choice between biological and psychodynamic treatments should be informed by individual patient needs and preferences. Some individuals may respond more favorably to medication and physiological interventions, while others may find solace and resolution in the therapeutic relationship and self-exploration offered by psychodynamic therapy. Ultimately, the decision should prioritize the well-being and comfort of the patient.

Furthermore, an integrated approach that combines elements of both models may offer a holistic and comprehensive method for addressing psychological disorders. This hybrid approach recognizes the value of medication in stabilizing acute symptoms while also harnessing the power of therapy to delve into underlying conflicts and promote lasting healing. Such an integrated model embraces the strengths of both paradigms, maximizing the potential for positive outcomes.


In conclusion, the field of clinical psychology has evolved to encompass multiple models of abnormality, each offering a unique perspective on understanding and treating psychological disorders. The biological model emphasizes physiological factors and external interventions, while the psychodynamic model delves into the individual's inner world and their capacity for self-healing through therapy. While these models may appear divergent, they can be viewed as complementary, with the potential for integration to provide a holistic approach to mental health treatment. Ultimately, the choice of treatment should be guided by individual patient needs, preferences, and the collaborative efforts of clinicians to ensure the best possible outcomes in the journey toward mental health and well-being.

Updated: Nov 06, 2023
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Understanding Models of Abnormality in Psychology. (2016, Jul 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-biological-and-psychodynamic-models-of-abnormality-essay

Understanding Models of Abnormality in Psychology essay
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