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PSYC 3140 Lecture Notes - Conversion Disorder, Neurology, Psychopathology

Course Code
PSYC 3140
Robert Muller

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What tells you if something should be classified as abnormal?
Abnormal- interferes with daily living, breaks away from social norm, harms others,
unusual in the population; statistical infrequency.
Many of the weird behaviours are context dependent; understanding the context is
critical. If it’s a characteristic that we all have, we don’t think it’s abnormal. Even if
it’s a characteristic that we don’t like, we don’t assume that it’s a psychological
abnormality because it’s frequent.
What if something is infrequent in one culture but not in another? Or in one time
period but not it another? We have to put it in the context that the behaviour occurs
in but also in the context of the culture and the historical time period.
Time period differences
When Sigmund Freud was writing his intro to psychoanalysis, it was the case that he
was really focusing on kind of psychopathology that we don’t see a lot these days;
conversion disorder (hysteria) in which individuals convert psychological
(intrapsychic) conflicts into physical symptoms. The psychological conflicts actually
cause physical symptoms. He was not a psychiatrist or a psychologist but a
neurologist. Some of his earlier studies were about neural processes in frogs. He
was interested in the physical in the neurological system. He developed
psychoanalysis because his costumers weren’t satisfied with just his previous
physiological explanation. He discovered that many of the individual with hysterical
blindness were actually individuals with severe psychological problems such as
losses, sexual abuse, etc. Their blindness was to block the bad things away. It’s very
interesting to track through different historical periods, you see that there’s a lot of
variability. We now see much less of the problems that Freud saw because many of
the patients he worked with had enormous guilt around their sexuality. They felt
incredible conflict for having sexual impulses. The sexual revolution of the 60-70s
had a huge effect on people and it freed them from the guilt that was before that. In
the west, there has been a big change. The number of people who struggled with
guilt has dramatically changed. Freud’s ideas of sexuality must be placed in the
context; that context has changed. Psychosomatic- is an older term which is
somewhere post-hysteria and pre conversion disorder/psycho-physiologically
Cultural differences
Haitian culture thinks that epilepsy and illusions are looked at as spiritual and good.
Also in Haiti, some are accused as being witches now; that’s due to perception of
life. In the west, talking to the dead seems crazy but some cultures do that to get
advice, etc. Seeing spirits is something that is entirely shunned in the west but is
important and positive in other cultures.
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Even between now and then; former prime-minister McKenzie King talked to the
dead and ask for advice on political issues (found that out after reading his journal
after death).
Are we overanalyzing things?
Harmful dysfunction- does it interfere with daily living of yours or your close ones?
Do we treat this person? Ok, this guy sees spirits but does it bother him? Certain
characteristics do get in the way of function in the culture; we need people to adapt
to the culture. Drugs are important for schizophrenia but it’s not a disease like a
foot infection is a disease. It’s becoming really medical with the DSM; but it’s
actually pseudo-medical and culturally dependent. These categories are helpful and
knowing how to help people but also, these categories aren’t always accurate and it
may not be wrong only problematic in the culture.
Cultural relativity and adjustment- there’s a tension between the two concepts.
Outside personal control- a lot of time people think that if they could, they would
get rid of the disorder. There’s something deeper than just getting over it. People
come to therapy because they need help finding a new solution to their problem;
need help to control and change it. Many times clients want to believe that what
they’re experiencing is normal. Should we be using a medicalized language? People
feel blamed. It’s a language that helps us understand categorical differences (i.e.
DSM); creates a way in which everybody in the field kind of knows what a person is
talking about. When doing therapy, Muller tries to do less diagnosing and more
understanding and talking.
Normalizing- there are clients who do need normalizing; really need to know that
their child is normal and has not learning disability. But other people look for an
explanation why their child isn’t doing well and look for a categorical diagnosis.
Chronic personality disorder- feeling less than, less loved; in this population these
people need the therapist to understand how rotten their life is. People come with
different needs and want to therapist to really GET what they’re going through; they
don’t want to be normalized.
People who go to therapy voluntarily or compulsively; ultimately, therapy works well
if people want to change the situation. If they feel like they don’t have a problem,
it’s a lot harder to help them and takes a lot longer. Motivation for change is really
Developmental context
Behaviour is considered to be abnormal or normal to the extent that it develops
mentally. The same problem can be a problem when a little kid, may not be a
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