Abnormal: Unit 2
Casual Factors and Viewpoints
The search for causes of psychological abnormality is embedded in theories of what should
influence psychological functioning. Theories emerge for several reasons:
1. To explain the cause of the problem;
2. To identify the factors that maintain the problem;
3. To predict the course of the problem; and
4. To guide the development of effective treatment for the problem.
Theories differ in the perspective and emphasis. What draws a person to one theory or
another and which one is 'right'?
Ideally it should be a theory's soundness, refutabililty, and potential for contribution
that holds the draw, but there are other factors too.
o For example, our own personal interests and experiences always influence
us. If you experienced bullying as a child and suffered through years of
terrible nightmares as a result, you might have a stronger interest in the
relationship between psycho-social events and internal, psychological
experiences. If you've experienced how dramatically chemicals can influence
the very elements of your personality, perhaps you might be more curious
about the chemical influences of the brain.
Another draw towards a particular theoretical orientation is the social climate in
which you were raised.
o For example, people raised in the 1970s probably absorbed the social-
learning perspective of that time, and believe that if treated with kindness
and respect, all people will develop into strong healthy individuals. This
would orient them towards models that emphasize the role of environment
and relationships in human development.
o Beginning in the 1990s there were giant leaps in the fields of biotechnology
and the human genome project. People raised in this era probably absorbed
the emphasis on biology and the unprecedented tendency to look to medicine
to correct certain psychological experiences, like depression. (There was an
astounding increase in the use of antidepressants at this time.)
Most researchers today recognize that there are not 'competing' models.
A scientist focusing on biological causal factors would certainly acknowledge that
psychological and sociocultural factors play a role as well People just focus on
o Even within a biological model, there are different areas of focus. Some
emphasize the structural models in the brain, some emphasize the role of
neurotransmitter systems, while others look to hormonal and autonomic
nervous systems functioning.
o Some biological models consider genetic make up to be the primary influence
in abnormal psychology. Abnormal: Unit 2
One of the problems encountered in some biological models is that the effect is
sometimes used to predict the cause.
o Just because a person responds to certain chemical alterations does not
necessarily mean that the disorder was 'caused' by that chemical. Penicillin
cures bacterial infections, but it does not mean that a deficiency of penicillin
is the cause of bacterial infections (bacteria are).
It is important to remember, in any area, that the cure does not always prove the cause.
Challenge Question Journal 3.1
It is reported that concordance does not prove genetic influences. Explain briefly what
concordance is and why it does not prove genetic influences.
Let's take a moment to consider the influence of Freud's theories.
Freud has fallen out of favour for many good reasons, but such grand theories are
rare and worth considering. It may be that he was simply a victim of the repressed
Victorian era in which he wrote and perhaps if he were writing today he would
emphasize the 'psycho-spiritual' rather than the 'psycho-sexual.' He was fascinated
with 'taboo' topics and the conflict they create. That was his basic theory – that we
have internal conflicts that need to be resolved in adaptive ways.
o The first reaction against Freud's psychodynamic perspective was the
behavioural perspective and then the cognitive-behavioural perspective.
It is important to appreciate the effort towards finding 'truth' and what was really
going on in psychological disorders. Each reaction to a previous perspective
contributed some important truth about human functioning.
People now realize that the relationship between culture, social environment and
psychological disorders is complex, fascinating and significant. There are huge differences
in values when it comes to the ideal parent, citizen, child or employee, depending on where
you live. Views on the function of a good attachment relationship (for example) differ
greatly between Canada and Japan. Even our therapists have different goals. We tend to
applaud independent exploration and autonomy while Japanese therapists encourage
clients to be grateful and devoted.
Assessing, Classifying and Diagnosing Disorders
A good classification system is an essential tool in diagnosing understanding, researching,
treating and preventing disorders. But the first thing that is required is a proper
In thinking about assessment, we wonder, 'what do we need to know and how can we get
that information?' We need to know what brought them to the clinician's office and we
need to know as much as we can about what precipitated that trip. Abnormal: Unit 2
So an assessment should have an interview with the 'client', but also with family
members or other people who can provide first hand information about the person's