According to William James (1842-1910)” To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal”.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the science of behavior it deals with prediction and control of behavior. Psychologists use the methods of science to investigate and study all kinds of behavior and mental processes say for example the activity of single nerve cell to social conflicts that take place in complex societies or say from the development of language in childhood to the major adjustments required in old age.

Why study Psychology?

  • Know thy self
  • To have a clear understanding of your own behavior, personality, attitudes, emotions, cognitions and many more things about yourself and others.

What is Abnormal Psychology?

It is a branch or field of Psychology which relates to mental disorders or psychopathology. It involves studying patterns of thinking and behaving that are maladaptive, disruptive .These disruptive patterns of thinking and behaving ultimately effects the individual relationship with others.

You may have heard about a number of mental disorders in television talk shows or in dramas or in the movies. Most of us are even familiar with the names of these mental disorders, such as Depression, Anxiety disorder, Eating disorder, Schizophrenia, Post traumatic stress disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder and many more. Abnormal Psychology studies:

  • The symptoms (what the disorders look like?), about
  • The etiology (what causes these disorders),
  • The assessment (how we can measure the disorders)
  • The diagnosis (how we can classify the disorders)
  • The prognosis (the possible outcome of the disorder)
  • The treatment (how we intervene)
  • Social implications (the effects that disorders have on the individual, their family and on the society in particular).


A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL in her biology class saw the dissection of a frog, about half way she left the room but she was bothered by images of the dissection. She began to avoid situations where she might see blood or injury .she found it difficult to look at raw meat or band aid. She could not stand the sight of blood. She fainted in her class frequently and she could not stand the people talking about blood, surgery or injury.

Symptoms sight of blood, injury or band aid or raw meat created fear. Etiology saw a dissection of frog Assessment impaired functioning, and DSM-IV-TR Diagnosis blood injury Phobia Prognosis good Treatment phobia treatment by Systematic Desensitization Social implications can not study in class; enter professions like medicine or nursing.

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior where as Abnormal Psychology is the application of psychological science to the study of mental disorders.

PSYCHOSIS is a general term that refers to several types of severe mental disorder in which the person is considered to be out of contact with reality.

Neurosis is a term no more used now we use the term Anxiety disorders it refers to mild types of mental disorder in which the person has contact with reality but its one area of his life which is problematic.

Recognizing the presence of a disorder

  • All mental disorders are typically defined by a set of characteristic features; one symptom by itself is seldom sufficient to make a diagnosis.
  • A group of symptoms that appear together and are assumed to represent a specific type of disorder is referred to as a syndrome.
  • The significance of any specific feature depends on whether the person also exhibits additional behaviors that are characteristic of a particular disorder.
  • The duration of a person’s symptoms is also important.
  • Mental disorders are defined in terms of persistent maladaptive behaviors.

Impairment is the ability to perform social and occupational roles is another consideration in identifying the presence of a mental disorder. One of the most difficult issues in the field of abnormal psychology centers on the processes by which mental disorders are identified. Psychologists and other mental health professionals do not at present have laboratory tests that can be used to confirm definitively the presence of psychopathology because the processes that are responsible for mental disorders have not yet been fully discovered.

Clinical psychologists depend on their observations of the person’s behavior and descriptions of personal experience.

Insanity is a legal term that refers to judgments about whether a person should be held responsible for criminal behavior if he or she is also mentally disturbed.

Nervous breakdown is an old fashioned term that indicates, in very general terms, that a person has developed some sort of incapacitating but otherwise unspecified type of mental disorder. This expression does not convey any specific information about the nature of the person’s problems.

Crazy is a term that does not convey specific information and carries with it many unfortunate, unfounded, and negative implications. Mental health professionals refer to psychopathological conditions as mental disorders or abnormal behaviors. Lunatic, insane, mad and nuts are terms referring to bizarre set of behaviors.

Example A I felt the need to clean my room at home every Sunday and I would spend some four to five hours at it. I would take every book out of the bookcase, dust it and put it back. At that time I loved doing that .Then I did not want to do it, but I could not stop and it made me think for the time that I might be nuts. (Case A, diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, citation from Summers, 1996)

Example B Whenever I get depressed it’s because I have lost a sense of myself. I cannot find reasons to like myself. I think I am ugly, I think no one likes me and I have become short tempered. Nobody wants to be around me. I am left alone. Being alone confirms that I am ugly and not worth being with. I think I am responsible for everything that goes wrong. (Case B, diagnosed with depression, citation from Thorne, 1993)

Example C Voices, like roar of a crowd. I felt like Jesus (Christ), I was being crucified. It was dark. I just continued to huddle under the blanket, feeling weak, and defenseless in a cruel world, I could no longer understand (Case C, Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, citation from Emmons & et.al, 1997)

The three examples cited are about exceptional, the unusual, the different, and the abnormal people.

Have you ever given a thought why we are fascinated by the disturbed people?

Do we see something of ourselves in them?

Do we at various moments think feel and act like the way disturbed people do most of the time?

Most of the people get anxious, depressed, suspicious, socially withdrawn or anti social, just less intensely and briefly, so its no wonder that while studying about the psychological disorders may at times evokes a strange sense of self recognition and an understanding of our own personality dynamics.

According to William James (1842-1910)” To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal”.

Another important reason for our curiosity about the disturbed people is that many of us have felt either personally or through friends or family members, the suffering and pain associated with the presence of a psychological disorder.

Myths and Misunderstandings of Abnormality/Mental Illness/Psychological Disorders

Following are the misconceptions and misunderstandings about the Psychological Disorders

No Behavior Perception
1 A person who has been mentally ill can never be normal.
2 Even if some mentally ill persons return to normal, most do not and people remain crazy
3 People with Psychological problems are unpredictable.
4 Mentally ill persons are dangerous and they could become aggressive at any time
5 Mentally ill people are misfits.

All the five myths are related to abnormal behavior or mental illness are not based on any empirical evidence.

Team approach in psychology

Psychiatrist is an MBBS, with an internship in psychiatric disorders. He prescribes drugs, psychosurgery and procedures like Electroconvulsive therapy. He identifies biological causes of disorder.

Clinical Psychologist has a master degree in psychology, a diploma in clinical psychology or a PhD degree in psychology. He identifies psychological, emotional, and behavioral causes of abnormal behavior. Sociologist has a master degree in sociology. He identifies the sociological causes of abnormal behavior. A team approach is needed in abnormal psychology.

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