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Abnormal Psychology and Behavioral Interventions Essay

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Abnormal Psychology

Illnesses of the mind have been considered the battle between the good and the evil in the early 12th-14th centuries (Barlow and Durand, 2005, p. 8). When someone had unexplained irrational behavior, the blame fell on evil. Devious methods of treatment for insanity prevailed. Demons and witches took some of the blame. The splitting of the Church in the 14th century was similarly believed to be due to heresy. The unfortunate insanity of people was seen as the downfall of the town. Exorcism and rituals were performed to rid people of insanity (Barlow and Durand, 2005, p. 9). There were some who believed that stress and melancholy were the causes of insanity and so could be easily cured. Treatments included rest, baths, ointments and potions. The patients were kept within the family and community in a happy atmosphere. Many people however found fault with the sufferers who they believed had the illness as a punishment. There followed a period where it was believed that the heavenly bodies influenced the mind, hence the word lunatic (Barlow and Durand, 2005, p. 11). The supernatural tradition for insanity is still prevalent among some religious groups. Hippocrates classified psychological diseases like any other and believed they could be treated as the brain was the seat of wisdom, consciousness, intelligence and emotion (p. 12).

Hippocrates thought that there were four humors in the body; blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. Melancholia or depression was caused by increased black bile. Each of the 4 humors was associated with heat, dryness, moisture and cold. Different psychiatric problems were associated with these states. “Hysteria” was coined by Hippocrates. He identified a group of disorders which are now termed somatoform. The biological tradition waxed and waned till again reestablished in the 19th century. John Grey was the champion of this tradition in America (Barlow and Durand, 2005, p. 13). Institutionalization was followed for a while. When the number of patients increased, the idea of non-institutionalization began.

The Modern-day behaviorists

Behaviorism is mainly associated with Pavlov and is known as classical conditioning while in the United States it is known as operant conditioning (Atherton, 2005). Classical conditioning tells of how an unconditioned stimulus produces an unconditioned response and then in combination with a conditioned stimulus, the response becomes a conditioned one. Operant conditioning is when a previous experience reinforces a particular response.

Learning occurs in the process (Atherton, 2005). The main manifestation of behaviorism is learning. Behavior has been spoken of as agential and physical behavior. Physical behavior refers to the change in relation to the environment. The raising of a leg could be an example. Agential behavior could be assumed to be what the agent does to produce a physical behavior (Byrne, 1994). Many associates all actions with physical behavior. This may not be true of reflexes which are also physical behaviors. The better way to understand agential behavior is by understanding that all matters decided in the head constitute agential behavior. Simple processes of behavioral modification could explain the behavior of an organism as argued by Watson and Skinner.

Both of them spoke about psychological behaviorism (Byrne, 1994). They thought that behavior could be explained by the history of stimulation and modifications of behaviors.

The operant conditioning of Skinner was an improvement over the crude stimulus-response the behaviorism of Watson. Quine, another behaviorist, believes that there is a close connection between language and belief. Contemporary behaviorism has derived its ideas from three sources (Byrne, 1994). Analytic functionalism is the first theory and it links the perceptual input, behavioral output and mental states. If this theory is correct, analysis of mental states will have a behavioral component. This also leads to the belief that a creature has a mind on the basis of his behavior. The second theory is just the opposite of the first. The third theory states there is no private language that proves that meaning and belief are manifestable in some behavior.

A theory based on the concept that all behaviors are reached through conditioning forms the basis of behavioral psychology. Interaction with the environment causes conditioning. In classical conditioning, a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response. A prior neutral stimulus is paired with the naturally occurring one (van Wagner, About.com). Later on, the previous stimulus would evoke the present response without the intervening naturally occurring stimulus. The final two elements would be the conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.

Operant conditioning or instrumental conditioning is a method by which learning occurs through a system of rewards and punishments. Behavior refers to the observable behavior in a person. Thoughts and emotions cannot be observed. All behavior can be reduced to a stimulus-response. Behavioral applications are scientific and can be used as therapy. Objective measurement is also possible.

Humanistic Psychology

Freud was a little pessimistic while Jung and Adler were optimistic in nature and viewpoint. Adler believed that human beings are at their best when doing things for others (Barlow and Durand, 2005, p. 24). The importance of consciousness was restored with the rejuvenation of humanistic psychology offering a holistic aspect of human life (Clay, 2002). Carl Rogers introduced client-centered therapy. The client himself would discover methods for self-direction, empathy and acceptance to promote his own development.

The human choice became an accepted idea and the tragedies associated with human life and thereby existentialism and phenomenology came into force with Rollo May. In 1964 many like-minded individuals came together to consolidate their ideas. Quantitative research was disregarded for some years and now has come back into significance (Clay, 2002). In the 1950s, psychology was just the study of observable behavior. Now cognitive behavior is gaining importance.

Humanistic psychology is also gaining significance. It no more focuses on what is wrong with people. Instead, psychologists are trying to find ways to strengthen what is right. This psychological non-pathologizing concept can be applied in many situations of conflict. An organization is expected to build hope on the available employees and chalk strategies to get the best out of them, overlooking the minor faults that they could be having. Neighbour’s conflicts can be solved with positive thinking (Clay, 2002). By the middle of the twentieth century, behaviorism gave way to cognitive psychology

Ethical psychology

The dialectical behavior therapy by Marsha Linehan is a good example of a treatment that combines competing values (Ethics Rounds, 2005). During the therapy, clients may indulge in impulsive and high-risk behaviors. The client’s welfare and his autonomy are both respected. Hospitalization is avoided so as to prevent a hindrance to the client’s own development and management of crises. Opportunity is allowed for growth (Ethics rounds, 2005). While clients who are suicidal in nature or have borderline personality disorders take dialectical therapy, they may be at the risk of harming themselves or others. An ethical psychologist who is working with such clients is taking risks himself but is doing things for the sake of the growth of the client. Dilemmas may confuse the psychologist but the care is to be provided with all possibilities before them (Ethics rounds, 2005). All societies have made boundaries separating normal behavior and psychopathology. The Law also has made rules which touch on the breaking of confidentiality in the treatment of psychopathology. In Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California Prosenjit Poddar who was taking treatment informed the psychologist that he is planning to kill a girl. The psychologist did not convey this critical information to the family of Tatiana Tarasoff. Poddar killed her. Confidentiality was pitted against safety. The Supreme Court upheld that in some cases safety was more important when weighed with the breakage of confidentiality (Ethics round, 2005).

Abnormal behavior

Abnormal behavior is seen in schizophrenia, eating disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, personality disorders, addictive disorders, childhood disorders, and special states of consciousness, including hypnosis and sleep. Physical malfunctions of the brain and nervous system were thought to be the cause of psychopathology. However, not all approaches agree that all disorders have purely physical causes. It is believed that learning often contributes to behavioral problems (such as phobias and stress).

Behaviour Therapy in psychopathology

Behavior therapy is very much an integral part of therapy for psychological disorders. The etiology of the abnormal behavior, the methods of therapy and the goals of therapy are the different aspects of how the problem is approached. Operant conditioning allows people to learn from their experiences. The people who do not learn in the usual manner result having abnormal behavior. Behaviorists believe in treating abnormal behavior by leading the ill persons to unlearn the behaviors which make them abnormal and induce them to learn new behaviors more conforming to those of normal people. Unacceptable behaviors are replaced by new ones. The patient becomes more accepted by family and friends. Patients with suicidal tendencies especially adolescents are given proactive programs so that assistance is readily available to them. Their help-seeking behavior is developed (Roswarski, 2009, p. 37).

Young children between the ages of 2 and 6 years who have psychological problems are provided play therapy whereby cognitive and behavioral interventions are imparted (Knell, 2005, p. 293). Cognitive change is communicated indirectly through “puppets, stuffed animals, and books to model strategies”. The psychologist and the child together determine the setting of goals and the selection of materials for play and activities. In the assessment stage, the therapist perceives the child and understands her drawbacks through unstructured observations or the Puppet Sentence Completion task (Knell, 2005, p.294). The generalization of behaviors for adaptation to the environment is important. Self-control is taught and new behaviors are encouraged. Reinforcement of skills comes from the environment. Trichotillomania (chronic hair pulling) has been treated in various manners (Elliot and Fuqua, 2006, p. 154). Electric shock, topical cream which increases pain, a snap of a rubber band are some of the punishment techniques used to stop a person from pulling hair. Reversal of the behavior occurs very fast or the unlearning of it is speedy (Elliot and Fuqua, 2006, p. 154).


Atherton, S. ((2005) Learning and Teaching: Behaviourism [On-line] 2009. Web.

Barlow, D.H. and Durand, V.M. (2005). “Essentials of Abnormal Psychology”. Published by Thomson Wadsworth.

Behaviourism, 2009. Web.

Clay, R.A. (2002). “A renaissance for humanistic psychology”. Monitor on Psychology Volume 33.

Elliott, A.J. and Fuqua, R.W. (2006). “Behavioral Interventions for Trichotillomania”. Chapter 8 in Tic disorders, trichotillomania, and other repetitive behavior disorders behavioral approaches to analysis and treatment Published by Springer in new York

Ethics rounds, (2005). “On being an ethical psychologist”. Monitor on Psychology Volume 36.

Knell, S.M. (2005). “Play Therapy” in Encyclopaedia of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (Eds.) Arthur Freeman, Published by Springer Science and Business Media, New York.

Rowarski, T.E. and Dunn, J.P. (2009). “The role of help and hope in prevention and early intervention with suicidal adolescents: Implications for mental health counselors” Journal of Mental Health Counselling, Vol.31, Issue 1, ProQuest Educational Journals.

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