Approaches to Abnormality

A PDF of the different psychological approach to abnormality. Not my own work but a resource found online.

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Psychopathology (psychological abnormality)
Definitions of abnormality
Deviation from social norms:
Social norms are the implicit and explicit rules that a society has concerning what are acceptable
behaviours, traits and beliefs. Deviation from such norms is recognised as abnormal.
Limitation Explanation
of definition
Eccentricity It is difficult to distinguish between behaviour that is abnormal and behaviour that is
eccentric e.g. a genius professor who spends all their time completing scientific
research may be seen as eccentric rather than abnormal.
Criminal It is difficult to accept that perpetrators of serious crimes are actually normal, but
behaviour just that their behaviour is abnormal. Additionally, sometimes normal people can
behave in antisocial ways.
Context Behaviour tends to be context specific e.g. a naked person on a nudist beach would
not be considered abnormal compared to a naked person running down a street.
History There is a lack of continuity over time, as beliefs about abnormality and social norms
of morally acceptable behaviour change over time. What is regarded as deviant by
one generation may be perfectly acceptable to the next e.g. before the 1970's
homosexuality was incorrectly considered a disorder.
Risk of If social deviance is viewed as psychological abnormality always, there is the
abuse possibility that this classification may be misused, where those who deviate and
labelled as mentally ill and treated accordingly e.g. labelling those who politically
oppose as being mentally ill so they can be imprisoned.
Cultural The behaviour of the white population in western societies is used as the basis for
differences social norms, where deviation from this is considered abnormal. Someone classified
as abnormal in one culture, may not be seen as abnormal in another culture e.g.
religious hallucinations may be regarded as normal by some.
Failure to function adequately:
Distress and inability to cope with everyday activities, especially difficulties concerning work, social
activities and family relationships.
Limitation Explanation
Narrow Corner (2005): abnormality can't be defined by dysfunction alone. It is when
definition abnormal behaviour interferes with daily functioning i.e. the lose of motivation
for work and to care for oneself, that is when it should be defined as abnormal.
Exceptions Psychopaths are recognised as abnormal, however they not display any general
failure to function e.g. they are often sociable and hardworking.
Direction of It could be an inability to cope with the demands of daily living that is the cause,
causality rather than the outcome of a mental disorder. Adam Clarke

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Deviation from ideal mental health (Jahoda, 1958)
Ideal mental health includes the following criteria:
1 ­ Positive attitude towards self: high level of self-confidence
2 ­ Self-actualisation: strive to fulfil potential
3 ­ Resistance to stress: good coping strategies
4 ­ Autonomy: reliant on themselves and stable when experiencing troubles as well not being too
dependent on others
5 ­ Accurate perception of reality: not extremely pessimistic or unrealistically optimistic.…read more

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Psychodynamic approach to psychopathology
·Id, ego, superego: Unresolved conflicts ­ fixation
·Early experiences ­ trauma ­ repression
·Stages in psychosexual development : oral, anal, phallic, latency, genital
·Ego defence mechanisms ­ distort reality and have an unconscious influence upon behaviour
e.g. repression , projection, denial, regression, displacement, sublimation.
Advantages Disadvantages
Zeldow (1995): opposition to Freud's research Limited populations were originally research as
brought about new empirical research with they were only Freud's patients from Austria.
improved methodological standards.…read more

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Drug treatment
·Anti-anxiety (Benzodiazepine): increase GABA to reduce levels of serotonin.
·Anti-depressants (SSRI): increase levels of serotonin
·Anti-psychotic (tranquilisers): decrease levels of dopamine
Advantages Disadvantages
Fisher and Greenberg: Anti-psychotics are fast Drug treatments often have side effects such as
and effective for schizophrenia. heart issues.
Only cures the symptoms of a disorder rather
than the underlying psychological issue.
Patient may become dependent on the drug
Patient may become tolerant of the drug and
require ever increasing doses.…read more

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· Awareness of repressed thoughts leads to insight concerning underlying causes. This allows a cure
of neurotic symptoms.
·Dream analysis: this is used to uncover the unconscious which is revealed in dreams in the form of
·Free association: patient says everything on their mind where thoughts are accumulated and the
repressed thoughts become conscious. Successful free association can lead to emotional release i.e.
catharsis.…read more

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Aversion therapy
·Association of an undesirable habit with unpleasant consequences -
·Can be used for smoking and alcohol addictions. e.g. Alcoholic drink is combined with an emetic (a
drug which causes vomiting), where eventually alcohol is associated with illness and is consequently
Advantages Disadvantages
Baker and Brandon (1988): nausea paired with Difficult to maintain associations after
alcohol can result in effective conditioned discontinuation of therapy.…read more


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