Abnormal psychology is perhaps one of the most recognizable and intriguing subfields of study in psychology. Part of what makes this field so intriguing is that it challenges us to define what is normal and abnormal. Most experts in the field have settled on several criteria to define abnormal behavior; however, this definition and even the very existence of certain disorders still remain a source of debate. This course will help us to define abnormal and normal behaviors and to group these abnormal phenomena into “disorders.”
These disorders are used to capture a particular type of abnormal psychological phenomena and help us to diagnose or make an educated decision regarding what disorder a patient/client may have. In order to distinguish between different disorders, clinicians often use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR (DSM-IV), which identifies the specific criteria used when diagnosing patients/clients. This manual represents the industry standard for psychologists and psychiatrists, who often work together to diagnose and treat psychological disorders. This course will cover the basic concepts surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal psychological phenomena. While you may have a basic understanding of the disorders addressed, we will cover each disorder in great detail. At the close of this course, you will have a much clearer picture of the characteristics of individual disorders, the epidemiology and prevalence of these disorders, the controversy surrounding these disorders, and the popular groups of both medication and psychosocial interventions used to treat these disorders. Another intriguing component of the field of abnormal psychology is the question of what causes the development of particular disorders. In hard sciences, researchers can easily manipulate conditions and isolate variables. The results from these studies are often fairly convincing and provide scientists and laypersons alike with a relatively unambiguous explanation for the questions posed within each respective field. However, in abnormal psychology, the unit of analysis is human behavior, which is complex and often prohibits our ability to manipulate variables of interest in empirical studies. This means that the conclusions we draw are often “up for debate” and hard and fast answers are often hard to come by. With that said, our current understanding of the factors which contribute to the development and maintenance of symptoms associated with these disorders is far more advanced that it was even 20 years ago. The first section of this course will begin by defining normal versus abnormal behavior and reviewing the historical context in which abnormal psychology emerged. It is important to note that historical context will be woven throughout the course, as it helps to anchor our current understanding of the field and the disorders it characterizes. We will then discuss the major theories or paradigms associated with abnormal psychology, the classification system used to differentiate and define disorders, and the research methods often utilized in the study of abnormal psychology. After we have learned the basic terminology and parameters which define abnormal psychology, we will move on to the second section of this course, which addresses individual disorders, their treatments, and common explanations concerning their origins. This section represents the majority of the content of this course and will cover anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, disorders of eating and sleeping, mood disorders, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, and personality disorders.