Introduction to Psychopathology
The study of mental illness and its corresponding abnormal behavior is commonly referred to as psychopathology or abnormal psychology. This type of study and treatment focuses on clinical therapy as a way of not only determining precipitating factors that indicate the presence or onset of a disorder, but the types and amount of treatment needed to alleviate or possibly cure the condition (Alloy, Riskind, & Manos, 2004).
In this essay psychopathology will be discussed in terms of its history and origins as well as its evolution and contemporary views. Biological, Psychosocial, and Sociocultural models will be assessed in relation to their corresponding theoretical viewpoints. Biological factors include genetics and other physical conditions that effect mental processes. Psychosocial factors involve triggers that a person has developed that increase or intensify symptoms of a disorder (Alloy, Riskind, & Manos, 2004). Sociocultural factors pertain to quality or type of life of an individual and how this affects their state of mind. All of these things contribute to the study of psychopathology and their corresponding theories and therapeutic methods.
Historical Views of Abnormal Behavior and Psychopathology
Throughout history abnormal behavior and the presence of mental illness has commonly been looked down on and prejudiced by society. Many deeply religious cultures believed that people became mentally ill when they were possessed by demons and often took drastic measures to exercise these demons from an individual. Other historical societies would cast out the mentally ill and ban them from living among the rest of the community. This later evolved into the creation of mental asylums, but many of these early structures were feared or stereotyped and sometimes took crude measures in an attempt to understand and treat patients (Karotana, 2006). With all this in mind, it is no wonder that even with our current technological and medical advances that society and the individuals within it are hesitant to seek help for mental disorders. Some of the earliest theorists such as Hippocrates suggested alternate causes for disorders such as neurological disease. He was also one of the first to observe what are now clinically proven disorders such as alcoholism and addiction, epilepsy, and stroke Butcher, Mineka, Fooley, 2010).
Contemporary Views of Abnormal Behavior and Psychopathology
Throughout the last century, Psychopathology has taken drastic steps towards increasing understanding and awareness if mental and behavioral disorders. Many famous theorists such as Karen Horney and Sigmund Freud have provided theories regarding a large variety of disorders, their causes, and suggested methods of treatment (Cervone & Pervin, 2010).
However, perhaps an even larger aspect of the study of psychopathology includes technological advances that promote biochemistry research and tests such as scanning brainwaves to determine differences between an individual diagnosed with a disorder and an individual who is functioning “normally”. This medical insight has provided factual basis for the presence of disorders that help strengthen the ideas promoted by historical theorists. Clinical trials help contribute to determining the effectiveness of proposed treatments including the introduction of various medications and behavior intervention and modification therapies (Watson, 2005).
Contemporary views on psychopathology focus on several key aspects that contribute to diagnosing and treating a disorder: behavioral, medical and cognitive factors within an individual. Behavioral factors include identifying abnormal behavior and providing modification treatment. Medical factors include identifying biological occurrences such as chemical imbalances and providing medical or pharmaceutical treatment for a patient. Cognitive factors identify thought and emotional processes of an individual, and are usually treated using methods aimed at improving cognitive functions and corresponding behaviors.
Origins of Abnormal Psychology
Abnormal psychology began as early the Stone Age and involved crude medical procedures that involved operations to the brain and skull (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley 2010). In this sense, the typical approach was largely supernatural in nature. This changed during the era when Hippocrates was an influential figure in society, but it was quickly discarded in favor of religious belief. Many religious institutions, especially during the Dark Ages, promoted the belief that those who were suffering from cognitive and emotional disorders were actually possessed by demons sent to earth to slander God and do the bidding of the Devil. During this time, many people were classified as demons or witches that were cast out or hunted down by members of the community in order to rid society of evil (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley 2010).
In some cases the inherent problem compounded itself because many innocent people who were otherwise normal were subjected to various methods of torture and abuse which essentially caused even more people to suffer from mental disorders. It was not until after the Dark Ages that abnormal psychology was studied in a more objective light that promoted the clinical evaluation of patients as a method of therapy and healing (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley 2010).
Evolution of the Scientific Discipline of Abnormal Psychology
During the early twentieth century many theorists began to emerge and develop concepts that promoted causes and methods of treatment for many different disorders. Some of these famous theorists, including Maslow, Freud, Horney, and Rogers helped to focus on specific disorders such as emotional, developmental, cognitive, adjustment, and situational disorders (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). From these theorists, clinical approaches could be taken that help categorize behavior specific disorders in a medical environment. The development of the DSM IV-TR is a somewhat revolutionary modern tool that has recorded symptoms of different disorders so that individuals can be treated for their mental illness much in the same manner as an individual with a physical illness would receive treatment. This manual has allowed for consistent and proven methods to be used on individuals diagnosed with a specific disorder (Alloy, Riskind, & Manos, 2004).
In the past the used of adversaries was a large part of psychiatric treatment. This utilized negative punishment methods such as shock therapy to discourage unwanted behavior. More recent studies have found that positive reinforcement is a much more successful method of treatment that shows benefits on many levels of treatment including and increase in self esteem and willingness to participate effectively in the program to promote self-healing (Korotana, 2006).
Assessment of Theoretical Viewpoints and Interpretations of Biological Models
Biological models assume that the cause of a disorder is physical in nature, such as a chemical imbalance or cognitive dysfunction. It is usually determined as genetic, hereditary, or caused by a physical medical condition. In many cases biological disorders can co-occur with other disorder such as sociocultural factors, particularly when the patient feels as though their disorder has not been properly treated or diagnosed (Watson, 2005).
Assessment of Theoretical Viewpoints and Interpretations of Psychosocial Models
One of the first pioneers regarding the psychosocial model is Theorist Erik Erikson. He believed that when an individual fails to fully develop their psychosocial self (or ego-identity) then they can suffer a disorder. Ego identity refers to the perceived self accomplishments or failures throughout the lifespan. Each accomplishment is accounted for as a quality, while failures are addressed as inadequacies. In this model, Erikson has created psychosocial stages that define how people interact and make decisions that contribute to their perceived accomplishments and failures. These stages are typically attributed to specific periods during the life span such as infancy, childhood, or adulthood, but there is controversy regarding the presence or importance of the age in which a person experiences each stage. Regardless, the theory summarizes that each stage must come to pass before another stage can begin. These eight stages are as follows (Cervone & Pervin, 2010):
Stage One – Trust vs. Mistrust
Infants learn whether their caregivers can be trusted to provide for their basic needs.
Stage Two – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
Toddlers learn if they can perform independent tasks such as self feeding, toileting, and dressing.
Stage Three – Initiative vs. Guilt
The school age child learns whether they are supported by role models to learn new tasks and concepts.
Stage Four – Industry vs. Inferiority
The child moves from young childhood to preteen and learns the differences in morality and cause and effect of their actions. They learn whether they can gain a “good” identity in the world.
Stage Five – Identity vs. Role Confusion
As a child moves through puberty in their teen years, they begin to form a more solid sense of identity. The child learns whether the person they have become is the person they are expected to be by others.
Stage Six – Intimacy vs. Isolation
A young adult learns whether they have a need to settle down with a mate or live single. It is thought that intimacy is gained when strong family ties are already present, while isolation occurs when the person does not have close relations with family during prior stages.
Stage Seven – Generativity vs. Stagnation
The middle aged adult decides whether they are able to contribute to community and family.
Stage Eight – Ego Integrity vs. Despair
The elderly adult takes a “self inventory” and decides whether the sum of their actions has amounted to what they expected.
Assessment of Theoretical Viewpoints and Interpretations of Sociocultural Models
Sociocultural models suggest that some people are essentially a product of their environments. The underlying concept is that people will have a tendency to suffer from different disorders based on the cultural benefits and stressors present in the community. Aspects such as societal roles, stereotyping, racism and prejudice all play a vital role in sociocultural models because they are partially responsible for the type and amount of treatment an individual receives (Alloy, 2004). Sociocultural models also present the concept of “triggers” which define circumstances specific to an individual that promote certain, repetitive behaviors. However, the diagnosis and treatment of a disorder is also largely dependent on the perceived social norms of the culture in which the disorder occurs. A person could be diagnosed with a disorder in one culture while considered perfectly normal in another (Alloy, Riskind, & Manos, 2004).
In conclusion, psychopathology has evolved substantially over a long period of time. As society developed medical and technological advances, it was able to navigate away from supernatural causes of mental disorders. This milestone allowed doctors and scientists to research and develop many of the theories and methods of treatment that we use today (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley, 2010).
Society still has much to learn regarding the manner in which mental disorders are perceived and treated. Many people perceive a disorder and a negative thing to be avoided. Perhaps even more people have a fear of seeking treatment because they do not wish to be viewed negatively by others.
Even more disturbing is the notion that mental disorders are sometimes dependent on the society in which an individual lives. Tools such as the DSM IV-TR allow the practitioner to avoid many of these societal misconceptions in an effort to provide clinical uniformity in psychiatric treatment and diagnosis (Alloy, Riskind, & Manos, 2004). The future goal of many practitioners is to some day be able to work in a world where much like a physical ailment, the diagnosis is seated in universally agreed factual research rather than through sociocultural norms.
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Cervone, D., Pervin, L.A. (2010). Personality. Theory and research. (11th ed.). John Wiley &
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