Abnormal Psychology and Therapy

The diagnosis, treatment, and eventual recovery from psychological disorders are the main focuses of psychology, in general. Even though psychology has branched off, as of late, into positive psychology and the humanistic perspectives, the field is heavily rooted in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. Furthermore, fundamental to the understanding of psychological disorders is a firm grasp of the difference between normal and abnormal psychology, a full explanation of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the two most diagnosed psychological disorders; and complete consideration of all four psychological perspectives’ treatment of psychological dysfunction.   

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When one thinks of normal psychology, one thinks that the subject in question has no problems physically or mentally. Are you okay the way you are? Should you be different? Most of us tend to take on roles that are acceptable behavior in society. Society expects us all to play certain roles. Normality is only questioned when there is a conflict between roles. Why do we conform to these certain roles? We do this because most societies, including ours, reward us for conformity. People tend to treat us with respect when we play the roles others are comfortable with. Abnormal psychology, in contrast, is a study of mental illnesses. Overall it’s the study of mental illnesses and how people with such illnesses can be treated. Mental illness is a much-debated topic in the world of psychology to which a lot of research is still needed. Problems usually come up when people try to define what is or is not “normal”. Mental illness is considered to be an illness of the mind, which makes it difficult for people to carry out normal, productive lifestyles. Mental illnesses range from depression to schizophrenia (Mental Illness, 2000). In a statistical sense, the word “abnormal” is neutral. That is, it covers both positive and negative deviations from the average. As most people use the term, however, “abnormal” usually refers to deviations that are inappropriate, disabling, unhealthy, or even “undesirable”.  For the most part, when we use the word abnormal, we are not only noting a departure from some statistical norm but making a value judgment about a situation as well. As many point out, however, who sets the standards and where do ideas come from if not the cultural group into which it was born? And statistically speaking, how close must one come to fulfilling one’s potential to be considered normal?  The belief is that all definitions of “abnormal” must be based on some concept of what is “healthy” or “normal” for a given person in a given culture. The study of human abnormalities is one of the richest and most fascinating areas in all psychology. No one disagrees that these abnormalities exist; rather, the controversy concerns how best to describe these conditions, where they come from, and what to do about them. There is no way to be completely objective about abnormal psychology. Why is this so? The very word “abnormal” is based (for the most part) on subjective value judgments or interpretations (1989, McConnell). Now that a firm foundation for the term abnormal has been laid two specific examples will be examined: bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Bipolar disorder also known as the manic depressive illness is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.  When viewing this particular disorder from a psychological perspective it’s important to know that bipolar disorder is drastically different from the normal ups and downs that we all as people experience some point in our lives, bipolar disorder is serious (Bipolar Disorder, 2008). Psychologist are conducting several studies to find possible causes of bipolar disorder, most agree that there is no single cause, but many factors that contribute to the condition. Stages of bipolar disorder are broken down into many episodes with the manic episode and the depressive episode being the most common. Diagnosis for the disorder is based on reported experiences from the individual, behavior abnormalities reported by family and friends, as well as coworkers. This is followed by an observation from a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist in a clinical assessment. There are several other mental disorders that have similar symptoms as bipolar disorder, these include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, drug intoxication, brief drug-induced psychosis, and borderline personality disorder, because of the similarities psychologist take time and care to properly diagnose this disorder.   Psychologists have often overlook bipolar disorder in children and misdiagnosis them as having ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OCD), or depression. It was believed in the psychiatric community that bipolar had a later onset. Psychologists are now changing their point of view on the onset of bipolar disorder (Bipolar Disorder Perspectives, 2008). Bipolar disorder is treated by a number of psychotherapeutic and pharmacological techniques. Psychologists also often recommend self-help to patients for personal recovery. 

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When viewing the disorder known as schizophrenia from a psychological perspective it is very important to remember that there are many symptoms and classifications associated with this class of disorder. In fact, many people would refer in the field of psychology often refer to this particular disorder as The Schizophrenias, due to the very nature of the beast so to speak. (Comer, 2005). The psychological view(s) on schizophrenia are more focused on not the disease but what events separate those who have this disorder from those who do not (other than the obvious symptoms). When we look at siblings (especially those who are identical) the chances of one inheriting schizophrenia is especially high if the other sibling has this disorder. Since siblings (especially identical twins) would/should be in the same boat from a biological perspective. So why is there a less than ninety-nine point nine percent chance of having the same disorder? The theory is that we are the result of our environment. What if your sibling was older/younger than you and was around your family at different points that happened to be far more stressful than what you dealt with from a psychological perspective? The type of stressors that one faces will typically make or break a person (quite literally). The wildcard in this equation is that no one knows for sure what is or is not the type of event or stressor that will cause an individual to be pushed over the edge. Sometimes it is a case of the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and sometimes it is a series of unfortunate events. The numbers indicate that although only one percent of the population is affected by this disorder across ethnicity lines. Though, the likelihood of having a trigger event is greatly increased amongst those who live in lower economic circles. This is believed to be due to the constant fight that takes place for survival from fears of housing, clothing, and food. We may never truly have all the answers but at least by understanding the framework of the causes we have the framework toward prevention. People may also have some fears that will eat away at their self-awareness and could potentially trigger the onset to begin.

The treatment of psychological disorders falls within the four broad categories of psychodynamic therapies, cognitive-behaviorist therapies; humanistic, group, and family therapies, and biological treatments. Even though most psychiatrist and psychologists espouse only one of the four psychological perspectives, most psychologists take advantage of more than one type of psychological treatment. This is due in large part to the efficacy of particular treatments in relation to specific psychological dysfunctions. For instance, the cognitive-behaviorist perspective of psychological treatment best addresses phobias and excessive fears and biological treatments, such as lithium therapy, best address severe cases of bipolar disorder (Kowalski & Western, 2005). In any event, more than one treatment is usually involved in any particular psychological dysfunction or disorder. Specifically, the psychodynamic form of treatment is largely concerned with the uncovering and moderating of unconscious psychological processes through the techniques of free association, interpretation, and analysis of transference. In the psychodynamic vein of thought, insight into unconscious processes and bridging the therapist-patient relationship are the two obstacles that stand in the way of psychological renovation. Furthermore, a psychodynamic therapist might ask a patient to lie down and talk about whatever comes to mind (free association), talk about what comes to mind and help the patient understand any unconscious conflicts (interpretation), or analyze the superimposition of past relationships and persons onto the therapist and others (transference). Next, the cognitive-behaviorist perspective of psychological treatment depends more on targeting specific psychological processes for moderation rather than the more all-inclusive approach of psychodynamics. For instance, a behaviorist treatment for a fear of driving cars might include desensitization, slowly introducing a mental representation of the feared stimulus while inhibiting the usually associated anxiety, or full exposure, which is exposing a client directly to the feared stimulus while controlling anxiety. On the other hand, a cognitive approach to this same problem would probably include therapy that sought to control the automatic thinking and dysfunctional cognitions that underlie the fear. Additionally, the humanistic, group and family therapies are a conglomeration of treatments that cover a wide variety of psychological dysfunctions. The humanistic approach to psychological treatment centers on the acquisition of the “true self” or self-actualization. Family therapies are used when complex social dysfunctions, such as family disputes, need to be addressed and dealt with as a family. Group therapies are used to when the presence of other people suffering from the same dysfunction is advantageous to the patient’s treatment. Lastly, the biological treatments entail the use of antipsychotics medications, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and psychosurgery to address psychological dysfunction. Many of these medications and treatments bring with them severe side-effects that can be as bad as or worse than the psychological problem in question. However, some of the medications, such as lithium therapy for bipolar disorder, have shown to be very beneficial for the patient. In addition, ECT and psychosurgery are only used in extreme cases of psychological disorder because the after-effects of the procedure only outweigh the effects of the disorder when the disorder is physically or mentally debilitating.       

In conclusion, there are many disorders that are affecting humans the main ones mentioned in this essay were bipolar and schizophrenia. The reader had the chance to learn of the different ways that are put out there that will help them overcome these disorders. Over the many years, the tree of psychology has grown with many branches linking new thoughts and perspectives to the old way of thinking. However, there are still many rocks that have not yet been lifted to explore what hides beneath. Therefore, psychology has and will always be such a fascinating field. We have learned that it takes medication and therapy to help overcome these certain disorders. There are many similarities and differences in therapies that are out there to help treat disorders. So next time you come across a person who has the same symptoms mentioned above, you will be able to guide that person in the right direction to get help.


Bipolar disorder. (2008). Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 23, 2008, from Wikipedia Web site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipolar_disorder

Bipolar disorder perspectives. (2008). Family First. Retrieved December 23, 2008, from Family First Web site: http://www.families-first.com/womenshealth/depression2.htm

Comer, R.J. (2005) Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology (4th Edition). New York: Worth.

Mental illness. (2000). Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved January 9, 2009, from Encyclopedia of Psychology Web site: http://www.enotes.com/gale-psychology-encyclopedia

Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. McConnell, J.V. (1989). Understanding human behavior. University of Michigan.

Paper Topic

Prepare a 1,050 to 1,400-word paper in which you discuss abnormal psychology and therapy. In your paper, be sure to address each one of the following items:

  • Compare and contrast normal and abnormal psychology.
    • Examine at least two mental disorders and two mental illnesses from the perspective of psychology.
    • Discuss the similarities and differences among the therapies for each school of thought in psychology for treating mental disorders.

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