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Introduction to Psychopathology

There is no one definition of abnormal psychology because the term “abnormal” can not be interpreted in one common way. There has always existed different definitions of this notion which have greatly changed across cultures and time. Today abnormal behavior is identified with a mental disorder. So, abnormal psychology can be presented as a scientific study or an area of psychology that investigates behavior of people, who are not able to adapt to the biological, social and cultural changes around them. “It remains a philosophical debate whether the uncertainty of our definition of "abnormality" is surmountable or is an inherent fuzziness of the field” (Guntrip, 1973, p. 67). The absence of one definition presumes some problems in defining the course of treatment, however, it does not mean that treatment is not possible. The difficulties of creating one common definition are first of all connected with the variety of factors which influence the process of adaptation. These factors include physical state, genetic peculiarities, ability to socialization, structure of metal processes, e.t.c.
In order to identify modern goals and objectives of abnormal psychology it is necessary to find its origins. The roots of this discipline go deep into ancient times. Plato was first in the 4th century B.C. who attracted attention to strange aspect of some people’s behavior. In those times such “abnormality” was explained by the actions of evil spirits. However, Plato did not accept this position and stated that this behavior was caused by the natural madness.
In the Dark Ages evil spirits had been changed into demons – the person with strange or “abnormal” behavior was considered to be possessed by demons. This was the time of Inquisition and about 100,000 people were burned at the stake, or tortured, or killed to death for this possession of demons. Later, in the 19th century the idea of demon’s possession was rethought and transformed. At that time abnormal behavior was interpreted as a punishment for the person’s harmful and sinful thoughts and actions (cited in Sharman, 1970).
Today there exist three different models which present their own patterns of abnormal behavior, its causes and possible treatments. These models are biological, psychological and sociocultural. The biological model emphasizes that abnormal behavior, that is mental disorder in fact, is caused by biological processes and changes in them. Due to this concept it has been found that syphilis could lead to psychosis. The background of this model is the neurotransmitters. “Imbalances of Neurotransmitters may be excessive production and release of the neurotransmitter substances into the synapses; may be a dysfunction in how neurotransmitters are deactivated and may be a problem with receptors in the postsynaptic neuron” (Thase, 1985, p. 116). The biological model is based purely on the scientific evidence and takes into account all biological peculiarities and possible causes of mental disorders. In accordance with the biological model mental disorder can be connected either with genetic predisposition or genotype-environment interaction. The proponents of this model sort out genetic influences and environmental influences. Environmental influences, in their turn, can be divided into shared and non-shared environmental influences.
The psychological model sees the cause of abnormal behavior in the social environment and possible family trauma. This model names such causes as parental psychopathology, trauma, parenting style, early deprivation, marital divorce, e.t.c. Parental psychopathology finds reasons of mental disorders in parents’ behavior. For example, parents who suffer from depressions, schizophrenia, alcohol or drug abuse are at high risk to have children with mental disorders. However, parents’ genetic illnesses will not be necessarily inherited by their children but the risk is high. Trauma may be caused by child’s abuse or neglect in family. Sometimes neglect can have even more serious consequences for the child’s psyche than abuse. Children who were abused might have social, emotional and behavioral disorders, language or communicative difficulties and be aggressive or reserved. It is very important to work with this childhood trauma because its consequences may be dangerous, however, effects of some traumas cannot be still overcome. Parental style is also of great importance in the psychological style because it forms their child’s future behavioral and social patterns. Parental style is also of great importance in the psychological style because it forms their child’s future behavioral and social patterns. Parental style can be authoritative, authoritarian, neglectful-uninvolved and permissive-indulgent. Due to the style chosen it is possible to predict possible mental disorders the child can have. Early deprivation can lead to such problems in functioning, as learning, emotional or behavioral problems. “Many children institutionalized in infancy or early childhood show severe emotional, behavioral, and learning problems and are at risk for disturbed attachment relationships and psychopathology” (Wolfe, 1987, p. 96). The possible way out can become successful adaptation. The statistics show that children, who were adopted at the age of 4-6, had an increase in IQ. Nevertheless, this period can be very difficult for a child and parents should pay great attention to this factor. Marital divorces or discords are always an emotional stress for a child. In some cases it can either lead to mental disorders or have consequences on the child’s future life. Children adapt their parents’ model of behavior and divorce can be also adapted by them as a normal behavioral pattern.
The sociocultural model explains mental disorders in the social or cultural context. The factors that can cause abnormal behavior can be unemployment, social uncertainty, discrimination and prejudice, and urban stressors. Recent researches show that there is a correlation between psychopathologies and the level of employment or unemployment. “Lower SES families tend to have more problems/dysfunction because of the stressors associated with low SES” (Wolfe, 1987, p. 104). It is interesting to note that underemployed and unemployed people have practically the same rates of depression. Social uncertainty and social changes can also lead at first to unstable mental states and then to mental disorders. The sociocultural model stresses that the development of mental disorder depends on the type of discrimination: gender, race or ethnicity and the strength of stereotypes which prevail in this particular society. It is also important that women are more influenced by the problems of discrimination and that is why they have more changes to suffer from abnormal behavior.
To sum up, abnormal psychology or psychopathology is a comparatively new scientific discipline. Its main goal and objectives were formed only in the 20th century, however, its roots we can find even in ancient times. Plato, for example, identified main features of abnormal behavior. Today we can not present one definition of abnormal psychology because the term “abnormal” can not interpreted in one common way. That is the reason of existence of three different models of investigation in this field. These models are biological, psychological and sociocultural.

Guntrip, H. (1973). Psychoanalytic theory, therapy, and the self. N.Y.:Basic Books.
Sharman, S.L. (1970). A historical background of the development of nosology in psychiatry and psychology. American Psychologist, 25, 248-253.
Thase, M.E., Frank, E. & Kupfer, D.J. (1985). Biological processes in major depression. In E.E. Beckman & W.R. Leber (Eds.), Handbook of depression: Treatment, assessment, and research. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.
Ullman, L.P. & Krasner, L. (1975). A psychological approach to abnormal behavior (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Wolfe. D.A.(1987). Child abuse: Implications for child development and psychopathology. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.


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