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What is Abnormal Psychology?

abnormal-psychologyFor both undergraduate and graduate students majoring in psychology, counseling or a similar related field, it is inevitable that you will be required to take at least one course in abnormal psychology. Often considered one of the most fascinating branches of the multi-dimensional field, abnormal psychology is a study that deals with better understanding the wide range of psychological disorders that impact human behavior and cause psychopathology.

According to the American Psychological Association, abnormal psychology is the "area of psychological investigation concerned with understanding the nature of individual pathologies of the mind, mood, and behavior." In order to gain more insight into this fascinating branch of the psychology field, read on for a complete overview of abnormal psychology and how you can get involved.

How Abnormal Behavior is Defined

While it may seem that the definition of "abnormal" indicates a behavior that is considered outside of the human norm, it is actually a much slipperier slope. Therefore, abnormal psychology takes on the task of scientifically studying and classifying human behaviors along a bell-shaped normal curve. While the vast majority of individuals are clustered around the middle of the curve at the highest point in what is known as the average, those who fall at the extreme ends of the curve are considered abnormal. However, it is important to recognize that the distinction between what is normal and what is abnormal is not synonymous with right or wrong. Since it is a rather obscure distinction, abnormal psychology is most concerned with the level of distress that accompanies troubling abnormal behaviors for mental health intervention.

Types of Abnormal Psychological Disorders

As patterns of behavioral or psychological symptoms that have a detrimental impact on multiple areas of life, abnormal psychology is interested in studying and treating the psychological disorders that create distress for the individual experiencing the negative symptoms. Due to the fact that the range of normal behaviors dramatically changes as society evolves, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association contains a comprehensive list of psychological disorders for mental health professionals. Often considered the Bible of abnormal psychology, the manual lists all psychiatric disorders, diagnostic codes, diagnostic criteria, and prevalence. In the most recent edition of the DSM-5, the categories include adjustment, anxiety, cognitive, dissociative, eating, factitious, impulse-control, mood, neuro-developmental, personality, psychotic, sexual, somatoform, and substance disorders.

Different Perspectives Used in Abnormal Psychology

Within the branch of abnormal psychology, there are various approaches that psychologists or other mental health professionals utilize in order to better treat the presence of psychological disorders. For instance, the behavioral approach to abnormal psychology targets the observable abnormal behaviors instead of the underlying causes by reinforcing positive behaviors and not reinforcing the maladaptive behaviors. On the other hand, the cognitive approach focuses on helping individuals changing their thoughts, reactions, perceptions, and reasoning that are caused by a psychological disorder. Psychologists can also take on a biological approach, which emphasizes the underlying physical causes of disorders like genetic inheritance, chemical imbalance, or related medical conditions.

Overall, individuals who have a deep fascination with abnormal psychology typically decide to follow a career path towards becoming a mental health counselor, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist. In any of these mental health professional positions with an advanced degree and studies in abnormal psychology, you can be involved in better understanding the underlying causes of behavior, determining how the behavior should be addressed, and developing a treatment plan to help patients reach for a higher quality of life.

Additional reading: How Does Counseling Differ from Clinical Psychology?

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