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Module 5 Assignment 1 LASA 2 The American Dream

abnormal psychology: an overview 2


learning objectives 1

· 1.1 How do we define abnormality and classify mental disorders?

· 1.2 What are the advantages and disadvantages of classification?

· 1.3 How common are mental disorders? Which disorders are most prevalent?

· 1.4 Why do we need a research-based approach in abnormal psychology?

· 1.5 How do we gather information about mental disorders?

· 1.6 What kinds of research designs are used to conduct research in abnormal psychology?

Abnormal psychology is concerned with understanding the nature, causes, and treatment of mental disorders. The topics and problems within the field of abnormal psychology surround us every day. You have only to pick up a newspaper, flip through a magazine, surf the web, or sit through a movie to be exposed to some of the issues that clinicians and researchers deal with on a day-to-day basis. Almost weekly some celebrity is in the news because of a drug or alcohol problem, an eating disorder, or some other psychological difficulty. Countless books provide personal accounts of struggles with schizophrenia, depression, phobias, and panic attacks. Films and TV shows portray aspects of abnormal behavior with varying degrees of accuracy. And then there are the tragic news stories of mothers who kill their children, in which problems with depression, schizophrenia, or postpartum difficulties seem to be implicated.

Abnormal psychology can also be found much closer to home. Walk around any college campus, and you will see flyers about peer support groups for people with eating disorders, depression, and a variety of other disturbances. You may even know someone who has experienced a clinical problem. It may be a cousin with a cocaine habit, a roommate with bulimia, or a grandparent who is developing Alzheimer’s disease. It may be a coworker of your mother’s who is hospitalized for depression, a neighbor who is afraid to leave the house, or someone at your gym who works out intensely despite being worrisomely thin. It may even be the disheveled street person in the aluminum foil hat who shouts, “Leave me alone!” to voices only he can hear.

The issues of abnormal psychology capture our interest, demand our attention, and trigger our concern. They also compel us to ask questions. To illustrate further, let’s consider two clinical cases.

Monique Monique is a 24-year-old law student. She is attractive, neatly dressed, and clearly very bright. If you were to meet her, you would think that she had few problems in her life; but Monique has been drinking alcohol since she was 14, and she smokes marijuana every day. Although she describes herself as “just a social drinker,” she drinks four or five glasses of wine when she goes out with friends and also drinks a couple of glasses of wine a night when she is alone in her apartment in the evening. She frequently misses early-morning classes because she feels too hung over to get out of bed. On several occasions her drinking has caused her to black out. Although she denies having any problems with alcohol, Monique admits that her friends and family have become very concerned about her and have suggested that she seek help. Monique, however, says, “I don’t think I am an alcoholic because I never drink in the mornings.” The previous week she decided to stop smoking marijuana entirely because she was concerned that she might have a drug problem. However, she found it impossible to stop and is now smoking regularly again.

John John comes from a family with no history of mental illness. He had a normal birth and seemed to develop normally when he was a child. However, when he was 21, John began to hear voices and started to believe that there was a conspiracy against him. Since that time, he has been on various different anti-psychotic medications. Although these have helped a little, he still has symptoms of psychosis. Now aged 46, John has been unable to work since he became ill. He has also been hospitalized many times. John lives in sheltered accommodation, although he maintains contact with his parents and his older brother.

Perhaps you found yourself asking questions as you read about Monique and John. For example, because Monique doesn’t drink in the mornings, you might have wondered whether she could really have a serious alcohol problem. She does. This is a question that concerns the criteria that must be met before someone receives a particular diagnosis. Or perhaps you wondered whether other people in Monique’s family likewise have drinking problems. They do. This is a question about what we call family aggregation —that is, whether a disorder runs in families.

You may also have been curious about what is wrong with John and why he is hearing voices. Questions about the age of onset of his symptoms as well as predisposing factors may also have occurred to you. John has schizophrenia, a disorder that often strikes in late adolescence or early adulthood. Also, as John’s case illustrates, it is not unusual for someone who develops schizophrenia to develop perfectly normally before suddenly bec…….

The DSM-5 is the newest revision of the manual used to classify and diagnose mental disorders. What are some advantages and disadvantages of classifying clients into a category of mental disorder?

Module 5 Assignment 1 LASA 2 The American Dream

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