Approaches to Psychopathology and Treatments (Abnormality)

Psychology A AQA, AS, Unit 2 Individual Differences

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 15-05-12 21:02

Biological Approach

Main Assumption:

All behaviour is the result of physiological processes or is inherited, therefore all abnormal behaviour is a result of these processes or is inherited aswell.

Key Features:

Biochemistry-ab beh result of imbalanced hormones or neurotransmitters, e.g. depression is a result of low levels of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.

Neuroanatomy-ab beh result of abnormal brain structures, e.g. Schizophrenia result of enlarged ventricles in the brain

Genetics- ab beh result of abnormal DNA, e.g. if one monozygotic twin develops Schizophrenia then their twin has a 50% chance of also developing it.

Infection-alters brain/body cells, leading to ab beh.

1 of 15

Evaluation of the Biological Approach


  • Development of Quick and Easy treatments- leads to drug therapy, which is quick and effective and suitable for the majority of patients.
  • Removes stigma of mental illness-fault doesn't lie within the patient, but within their biology.


  • Encourages Passive Patients- patients feel that they cannot help themselves if the abnormality is "in their genes".
  • Reductionist- the approach ignores learning and thought processes which could also contribute to abnormal behaviour.
2 of 15

Biological Treatment: Drug Therapy

Anti Depressants (depression=low serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline)

  • SSRI'S (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)- block repuptake transporter of serotonin only, therefore serotonin stays in synapse longer and is more likely to bind and reduce effects of depression.
  • MAOI'S (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)-block enzymes which break down neurotransmitters, so that neurotransmitters are not broken down and stay in synapse longer, more likely to bind and reduce effects of depression.
  • Tricyclics-block reuptake of all 3 neurotransmitters

Anti Psychotics (Schizophrenia-excess of dopamine)- block dopamine receptor so that dopamine cannot bind, therefore reduces dopamine levels and Schizophrenia.

Anti Anxiety- aid GABA (body's natural anti anxiety neurotransmitter) by blocking 2nd receptor site and blocking electrical impulses across the synapse

3 of 15

Evaluation of Drug Therapy


  • 60% Effective- in treating cases of depression, therefore suitable, valid treatment for the majority of sufferers.
  • Quick and Easy- effective within a couple of weeks, therefore suitable for preventing cases becoming more serious/ sufferers see an immediate improvement in their condition.


  • Only treats symptons not the cause-underlying problem not addressed, therefore symptoms may redevelop once the patient stops taking the drugs.
  • Side Effects and Problems of Dependancy- long term users may become addicted, old MAOI'S caused symptoms similiar to Parkinsons- shaking.
4 of 15

Biological Treatment: ECT

  • treatment for severe depression
  • 2-3 times a week for 6-8 weeks
  • involves giving the patient muscle relaxant drugs and then attaching electrodes to the skull and passing an electirical current through the brain.
  • induces an epileptic type seizure


  • 60-70% effective in treating depression-therefore valid treatment
  • Suitable for severe cases- often successful when drugs dont work.


  • Unethical-issues of lack of informed consent-severe patients may not be in a position to give this, also may cause memory loss issues.
  • Unknown how it actually works- only believed that electrical impulses stimulate neurotransmitters.
5 of 15

Behavioural Approach

Main Assumption

All behaviour is learnt, therefore all abnormal behaviour is learnt aswell.

Key Features

Classical Conditioning-behaviour is learnt through making associations, based on the principles of Pavlov's dog experiment- dog drooled at the site of food, food is paired with a bell, and eventually the dog associates just the bell with food, and drools when only the bell is present.

Operant Conditioning-behaviour is learnt through positive reinforcements (rewards)/ negative reinforcements (remove negative state) and punishments.

Social Learning- behaviour learnt through observing a model's behaviour and imitating (copying) their actions.

6 of 15

Evaluation of the Behavioural Approach


  • Suggests behaviour can be unlearnt-maladaptive behaviour can be replaced with adaptive behaviour, therefore abnormality can easily be treated
  • Research Support- Classical Conditioning is supported by Little Albert Experiment- the infant became scared of the rat  when it was paired with loud music- makes the approach more reliable.


  • Reductionist- ignores biological and thought processes which may also be responsible for causing abnormal behaviour, therefore less valid.
  • Doesnt address cause of the abnormal behaviour, therefore the underlying problem is not addressed.
7 of 15

Behavioural Treatment: Systematic Desensitisation

  • patient and therapist devise hierarchy of increasingly stressful situations relating to a phobia.
  • E.g. for a fear of mice, the hierarchy might begin with seeing a picture of a mouse, and work up to holding a real mouse.
  • patient is taught relaxation techniques at each stage, therefore, at most stressful stage (climax of hierarchy) patient feels relaxed.


  • 75 % effective in treating phobias, valid treatment
  • Quicker than talking therapies such as Psychoanalysis


  • Only suitable for treating phobias, not disorders such as depression
  • Doesnt address underlying cause, phobia may redevelop
8 of 15

Other Behavioural Treatments: Flooding and Token E

Flooding- based on Classical Conditioning

  • client is placed straight into most stressful situation E.g.someone with a fear of heights placed on top of a tall building.
  • theory is that distress cannot be maintained for a prolonged period and therefore patient eventually calms down and copes with the fear.
  • Strength- Instigates coping strategies which can be used in the future
  • Weakness- Unethical-possible psychological harm and distress to patient

Token Economy- based on Operant Conditioning

  • patient given tokens for displaying desired/ adaptive behaviour, rather than undesired/maladaptive behaviour.
  • builds up to be exchanged for a reward- somethig the patient wants
9 of 15

Cognitive Approach

Main Assumption

All behaviour is a result of automatic thought processes and therefore all abnormal behaviour is a result of abnormal of maladapative thinking.

Key features

Negative Thinking (Beck)- based on Beck's Cognitive Triad- negative views of oneself, the world and the future- leads to depression.

Irrational Thinking (Ellis)-catastrophising events and drawing illogical conclusions leads to emotional disturbance and anxiety disorders.

10 of 15

Evaluation of the Cognitive Approach


  • Attempts to explain invisible thought processes which other approaches do not address
  • Research Support- evidence of maladaptive thinking found in sufferers of depression- makes it more valid.


  • Consequence not cause- cause of maladaptive thinking not explained- doesnt say why people have negative or irrational thoughts.
  • Blames the individual-depression seen as the result of "indulging" in negative thoughts
11 of 15

Cognitive Treatment: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

  • aims to challenge irrational thinking, and to alter the way people think about themselves, the world and the the future
  • based on the ABC Model
  • Activating Events-cause of thoughts are identified
  • Beliefs-are challenged as to why they have these beliefs
  • Consequences- to see that irrational thinking has negative consequences and that more rational thinking has positive outcomes.


  • Changes thought processes- therefore long term cure
  • Ethical-both client and therapist work together


  • Hard to change long term thought processes that have been lifelong
  • Time Consuming- takes time to see improvement/ begin to think differently
12 of 15

Psychodynamic Approach

Main Assumption

All behaviour is a result of unconscious conflict within the Psyche or due to childhood experiences, therefore all abnormal behaviour is a result of unresolved unconscious conflict or negative childhood experiences.

Key Features

Id-part of the unconscious mind, the selfish drive for attention and gratification, it is present from birth (E.g. a baby cries for attention), if dominant then behaviour is aggressive.

Ego-part of conscious mind which mediates demands of Id/Superego, develops age 2

Superego- part of unconscious mind, internal moral standards which develop age 5/6, if dominant then behaviour is obsessive and can cause anxiety disorders.

13 of 15

Evaluation of the Psychodynamic Approach


  • Influential-led to first talking therapies which aimed to identify cause of abnormal behaviour, rather than just treating symptoms.
  • Negative childhood experiences found to influence behaviour of sufferers of depression- more valid


  • Theoretical Constructs-cannot scientifically determine existence of Id, Ego and Superego-less valid
  • Doesn't explain effect of positive childhood experiences on behaviour
14 of 15

Psychodynamic Treatment: Psychoanalysis

  • attempt to "gain insight" into unconscious conflict within the Psyche
  • Projective Tests- patient asked to give instant response to ambiguous ink blot pattern, pause indicates conflct
  • Word Association- patient asked to give instant response to given word, pause indicates conflict
  • Dream Analysis- therapist has to interpret the manifest content of the dream (symbols that the dream emerges as) and convert them to latent content (true meaning of the dream) to gain insight.


  • 80% effective-helps majority- valid treatment
  • Addresses underlying cause of problem by gaining insight


  • Time Consuming- takes many sessions, not suitable for severe cases
  • Unethical-may involve reliving distressing events- psychological harm
15 of 15


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Abnormality resources »