The task of defining abnormality is not a simple one. The biggest difficulty in this task is the fact that what may be normal to me, could be completely abnormal to you. The reasons for different opinions on normality could be related to age, gender, economic class, culture, religion, and many more. For example if I were to say that at my job “Jack soiled himself and was in need of a complete outfit change”, you would most likely assume that Jack is an infant or toddler, not my manager right?
This example would demonstrate the idea that age can affect whether particular incidents are normal or abnormal. Abnormal psychology focuses on the definition, classification, explanation, and treatment of abnormal behavior (Hansell & Damour, 2008). The science of abnormal psychology has gone through an always changing evolution in its one hundred year old history. Areas of focus evolved into six core concepts that enabled a more accurate definition of the field. Understanding the origins of psychopathology is of major significance to understand the full scope of abnormal psychology.
Abnormal psychology attempts to treat those suffering from various disorders through the theoretical models of abnormality and distinct evolution. Even though the science of abnormal psychology is relativity young many forms of mental illness have been recorded throughout history. Stories from biblical times describe suffering similar to contemporary illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia (Bark, 1988; Kahn, 1975, as cited by Hansell & Damour, 2008). One of the earliest known explanations for mental illness in primitive cultures was animism, predicated on belief in the power of the spirit world (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Animism is the view that mental issues were associated with the possession by a hateful or evil spirit. “Archeologists have documented evidence of a treatment 3 called trephination as early as 3000 BCE. This medical procedure consisted of boring holes into the skull to release the offending spirit” (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Though this treatment may seem primitive and archaic, in the world where their belief was that spirit permeated life, this seemed like a logical way to release the spirit that was trapped.
This was a normal reaction to a mental problem, according to historic relativism. Behavior is on a wide spectrum between accepted behavior and expected, and then its counterpart abnormal behavior. Identifying the point when behavior changes from being normal and becomes abnormal is challenging. According to Hansell and Damour (2008), abnormal behavior is often an exaggerated normal state with many shades of gray between it and its normal complement. Adding further challenge to differentiating between the two is the changing palette and cultural texture of humankind as it moves through time.
The way an accurate definition of the field was created was by the creation of the six core concepts. “These concepts include the importance of context, the continuum between normal and abnormal behavior, attention to cultural and historical relativism, understanding the benefits and impediments of diagnosis, understanding multiple causality, and the significance of the mind/body connection” (Hansell & Damour, 2008). During the course of scientific evolution, in 460 BCE Hippocrates attributed mental illness to the imbalanced biological state of four fluids within the human body.
Although flawed, his explanations were a significant step toward contemporary medical thinking (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Early biological theory influenced other Greek physicians to diagnose according to medical observations rather than folklore, anecdote, or spiritual belief. In the forward movement of the medical field, 4 associations made between psychological symptoms directly resulting from biological causes inspired new thinking (Hansell & Damour, 2008). The biological/medical model identifies a biological or physical association to mental disease and dysfunction.
This model assesses the contribution of physical and biochemical functions in the human body, especially within the brain, as a means to understand how these functions relate to abnormal overt behavior and unobservable deviant mental processes (Hansell & Damour, 2008). The sociocultural model addresses the effects of social, cultural, and familial environments on individuals and their contribution to mental dysfunction and illness. This model accounts for the environment as a stressor and pressure, which exacerbates potential dysfunctions and provokes abnormal behavior.
Sociocultural models focus on the influence of social norms and rules, communication, cultural influences, and religious beliefs (Comer, 2007). From early animistic treatment to the high technology of medical science, psychology has continued to discover and apply new information and treatment as a means to affect the discomfort and dysfunction of abnormal behavior, and in its evolution, progressed to a scientific exploration. The six core concepts serve as a reminder that abnormal psychology is a science that aims to influence and assist people, even though studying the disorders and clarifying diagnoses is an equally essential ingredient (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Various theoretical models emphasize the importance of a broad therapeutic perspective that promotes a more reasonable and accurate understanding of the mysteries of abnormal behavior. 5 Comer, R. J. (2007). Abnormal psychology.
New York: Worth. Hansell, J. , & Damour, L. (2008). Abnormal psychology (2nd ed. ). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Meyer, R. , Chapman, L. K. , & Weaver, C. M. (2009). Case studies in abnormal behavior. (8th ed. ). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.