Abnormal Behaviour in Historical Context
Psychological disorder: behavioural, emotional or cognitive dysfunctions within an individual
associated with distress or impairment in functioning and a response that is not typical or
Phobia: disorder characterized by marked and persistent fear of an object or situation
What is a psychological disorder?
Defined by psychological dysfunction, personal distress, and atypical/not culturally expected
responses. All criteria must be met for a psychological disorder
Psychological dysfunction; breakdown in cognitive, emotional or behavioural functioning.
o Personal distress: individual must be extremely upset, interfering with everyday activities
(boy who faints at the sight of blood=disorder). However, some disorders are characterized
by a lack of distress
o Atypical/not culturally expected responses: the greater the deviation from the norm, the
more abnormal it is. Violation of social norms can also constitute abnormal behaviour. Must
be culturally atypical; trance-like states and possessions atypical in Western culture, but is
acceptable in other societies. Must pay attention to what is functional or dysfunctional in a
The three Ds:
o Deviance: different, extreme, unusual
Distress: unpleasant and upsetting
o Dysfunction: causes interference with life
Statistical deviance: behaviour that does not appear frequently. However, this does not define as
all infrequent behaviour would be considered deviant. Also many psychological disorders are fairly
Distress: behaviour must be personally distressing before it can be labelled abnormal. Manic
episodes provide great positive feelings for the individual, and not distressing to the individual.
However, it is labelled as part of a psychological disorder. Same with psychopaths who do things
socially unacceptable but that they do not see as problematic.
Most psychological disorders are extreme expressions of otherwise normal emotions, behaviours
and cognitive processes.
Not easy to decide what represents a dysfunction or disorder; consider how they match up to the
typical profile or prototype.
Szasz: believed mental illness was a myth and practice of labelling mental illnesses should be
stopped. Argued that the criteria used for determining mental illnesses are subjective judgements
whereas diagnoses for physical diseases are objective.
Albee: criticized the concept of 'mental disease' and use of the medical model and diagnoses in
conceptualizing abnormal behaviour.
Definition of abnormal behaviour: breakdown in cognitive, emotional or behavioural functioning.
Schizophrenics sometimes see or hear things (cognitive), individuals with mood disorders show
emotional breakdown. Distress or impairment common for most disorders; the breakdown is
usually accompanied by distress. Difficulty performing appropriate and expected roles;
impairment is set in the context of a person's background, how was the person doing before the problem began (benchmark for how the disorder is affecting their life). Atypical or unexpected
Science of Psychopathology
Psychopathology: scientific study of psychological disorders
Clinical psychologists typically get a PhD; prepares them to conduct research into causes and
treatments of psychological disorders and to diagnose, assess and treat these disorders. Can also
get a PsyD which has more emphasis on the clinical practice and less on the research training.
Psychologists with other specialty training concentrate on investigating determinants of
behaviour, but do not assess or treat disorders.
Counselling psychologists tend to study and treat adjustment and occupational issues encountered
by healthy individuals, where clinical psychologists concentrate on more severe psychological
Psychiatrists earn an MD then specialize in psychiatry, also investigate nature and causes
psychological disorders. Usually emphasize drugs or biological treatments
Psychiatric social workers earn master's in social work; collect information relevant to social and
family life of the individual with the disorder, also treat disorders
Psychiatric nurses have masters or PhD; specialize in care and treatment of patients with
psychological disorders, usually in hospitals.
Marriage and family therapists and mental health counsellors earn a master's then provide clinical
services in hospitals
Scientist-practitioner: mental health professionals who take a scientific approach to their work.
o Keep up with latest scientific developments in their field, use the most current diagnostic
and treatment procedures
o Evaluate their own assessments and treatments procedures to see if they work
o Conduct research that produces new information about disorders or their treatment
Studying psychological disorders: clinical description, causation, treatment and outcome.
o Presenting problem: original complaint reported by client to therapist; why the person
came to the clinic
Clinical description: combination of behaviours, thoughts and feelings that make up a
specific disorder. Specifies what makes the disorder different from normal behaviour
o Prevalence: how many people in the population have the disorder. Incidence: how many
new cases occur during a given period. Sex ratio: percentage of males and female that have
the disorder. Age of onset: typical age the disorder shows itself in an individual
o Course: pattern of development and change of a disorder over time. Every disorder has an
individual pattern; schizophrenia follows a chronic course, meaning it tends to last a very
long time. Other disorders, like mood disorders, follow an episodic course, meaning the
individual in likely to recover within a few months, with the disorder recurring later in life.
Time limited course means the disorder will improve without treatment in a relatively short
period of time.
o Differences in onset: acute onset means they begin suddenly, an insidious onset means they
develop gradually over time. Knowing the course of a disorder means knowing what to
expect and how to best deal with the problem. Knowing a disorder is time limited, the
therapist may advise the patient to forgo expensive treatment, as the disorder will take care
of itself within a short period of time.
o Prognosis: anticipated course of a disorder o Age is an important part of clinical description; disorders occurring in childhood may present
differently than the same disorder occurring in adulthood or old age. Children experiencing
anxiety and panic often assume they are physically ill because they have difficulty
understanding that there is nothing physically wrong.
Causation, treatment and outcome
o Etiology: study of origins. For disorders, includes biological, social and psychological
o Treatment helps study of psychological disorders: if a new drug or treatment is effective in
treating a disorder, it can provide hints about nature and causes of the disorder. A drug with
a specific effect in the nervous system helps a certain disorder, we know something in that
part of the nervous system is causing or maintaining the disorder. Effect does not imply
Psychological theory: logically consistent statements about behavioural phenomenon that:
o Summarizes existing empirical knowledge
o Organizes this knowledge in the form of precise statements of relationships among
Provides a tentative explanation for the phenomenon
o Serves as the basis for making predictions.
Scientific theory should be: consistent, parsimonious (simplest explanation), correctable,
empirically testable, and useful
Efforts to explain and control problematic behaviour derives from theories or models popular at
The Supernatural Model
Behaviour considered a reflection of the battle between good and evil
o Unexplainable, irrational behaviour is perceived as evil.
During the late 14th century, society began to believe in the reality of demons and witches. People
turned to magic and sorcery to solve problems and make sense of the political turmoil their world
was in (church has split).
During these times, people with psychological disorders and subsequently abnormal behaviour
were seen as being inflicted by the work of devils and witches. Individuals possessed by evil spirits
were responsible for misfortunes suffered by the town.
Treatments included exorcism (attempt to rid individual of evil spirits), shaving a cross in the
individuals hair and securing them to a wall in the church
During this period, the view that insanity was a natural phenomenon caused by stress was also
Depression and anxiety were recognized as illnesses, although symptoms like despair and lethargy
were more often associated with the sin of sloth. Treatments were rest, sleep and happy
environments, baths, ointments, potions.
Usually townsfolk took turns caring for individuals with disorders