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Abnormal Psychology as a Scientific Discipline Essay

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Updated: Mar 2nd, 2021

The Abnormal Psychology Field

Abnormal psychology is the field of knowledge where the focus is put on causes, features, and consequences of behaviors that are discussed as unusual ones (Hansell & Damour, 2008, p. 4-7). Referring to this statement, it is possible to note that abnormal psychology is based on a lot of controversies because it is rather difficult to define the usual and unusual behaviors, to determine the criteria which are important for defining the notions, and to overcome biases associated with different proposed criteria and definitions.

That is why, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the origins of abnormal psychology, to focus on challenges in classifying and defining abnormal and normal behaviors, to concentrate on the evolution of abnormal psychology into the scientific discipline, and to examine the related theoretical models. Thus, principles of abnormal psychology are still studied in order to overcome controversies and to develop a strict scientific base for psychological practice.

Origins of Abnormal Psychology and Challenges Related to Definitions

The origins of abnormal psychology are in the progress of primitive societies because people have tried to explain and describe unusual behaviors since the pre-historic period. Different spiritual theories and the focus on animism can be discussed as examples of first abnormal visions. Observing unusual behaviors, people were inclined to explain them with the help of traditional concepts such as, for instance, the communication with the dead persons to relieve their spirits or examples of animism and effects of the negative energy to cause the behavior.

The problem is in the fact that today many people belonging to different cultures can still discuss definite traditions as the symbols of their culture when the representatives of the other societies can discuss these behaviors as abnormal. At this stage, researchers face the challenge of defining and classifying normal and abnormal behaviors because there are no set criteria appropriate for all the cultures and contexts. Today, it is possible to discuss abnormal behaviors only in the concrete context and with references to the culture (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Furthermore, such aspects as gender, age, and class are also important and can influence the person’s behavior which can be discussed differently in various cultures.

How Abnormal Psychology Has Evolved into a Scientific Discipline

During the centuries, abnormal psychology was not determined as an independent scientific discipline because there was no enough research in the field, and the appropriate scientific tools and methods were not determined. From this point, the evolution of abnormal psychology as a scientific discipline is closely associated with the evolution of psychology and psychotherapy (Arrindell, 2003, p. 749). The first attempts to observe, describe and explain the people’s behaviors resulted in determining the behaviors which were rather unusual. People focused on the explanation of the abnormal behaviors with the help of philosophical ideas or with references to the religious practices because these approaches were common for them.

The next step was the use of the first biological theories to discuss the behaviors as unusual. From this point, Hippocrates was one of the first scientists who began to discuss unusual behaviors from the biological perspective. The tradition to focus on the biological background was supported by the Greeks who made the first attempts to discuss the causes of the hysteria as the psychological disorder (Hansell & Damour, 2008, p. 28-29). The significant shift in approaches to predicting, describing, and explaining the abnormal behavior was observed in the 19th-20th centuries when the principles of abnormal psychology were stated and supported with the research.

Theoretical Models Related to the Development of Abnormal Psychology

There are several theoretical models related to the field of abnormal psychology which are actively used by psychologists and therapists today. According to the psychodynamic model, the cause of the person’s abnormal behavior is in the experienced childhood trauma, and the abnormal behavior is the person’s variant to cope with the anxiety and to defend the mind (Silverstein & Uhlhaas, 2004, p. 259). It is important to note that the origins and causes of these behaviors are not understood by the persons because they are unconscious. This model is based on the theory developed by Sigmund Freud, and it is rather controversial because of its limitations (Sue, 2009, p. 44-45).

The biological model depends on the idea that the person’s abnormal behavior is the result of definite physiological processes in the person’s brain. Thus, the behavior can be caused by many other biological factors such as genetics and particular features of the brain’s development (Sue, 2009, p. 36). The next model is the socio-cultural one according to which gender, age, race, ethnicity, and culture influence the person’s behavior significantly. Furthermore, different disorders can be associated with the concrete factor, as it is characteristic for abnormality in the sexual behaviors of men and women. From this perspective, it is rather difficult to state what behaviors can be discussed as normal and abnormal (Sue, 2009, p. 58).

Conclusion

There are difficulties in defining and classifying abnormal and normal behaviors because of the impact of cultural and contextual factors on the persons’ behaviors as well as because of the role of the biological factors in the process. Researchers experience significant challenges while determining the criteria to use for defining the notions in order to provide the scientific background for abnormal psychology.

References

Arrindell, W. (2003). Cultural abnormal psychology. BRT, 41(7), 749-53.

Hansell, J., & Damour, L. (2008). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Vargas, E. (2013). The importance of form in Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and a further step. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 29(1), 167-183.

Silverstein, S., & Uhlhaas, S. (2004). Gestalt psychology: the forgotten paradigm in abnormal psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 117(2), 259-77.

Sue, D. (2009). Understanding abnormal behavior. USA: Cengage Learning.

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