Abnormal psychology is a field in psychology that studies mental illness and abnormal behavior (Comer, 2005). Psychology has had a long history of the bizarre and unexplained behavior. One does wonder how psychology came about as it is today. Psychology at present is a recognized scientific discipline that seeks to understand human behavior and mental processes. Abnormal psychology is probably the first field in psychology that have gained wider acceptance in the scientific field since it involved the medical aspect of mental illness and abnormal behavior. In the past, abnormal behavior was regarded in the realm of the supernatural.
In fact abnormal psychology is said to have originated from the practice of witchcraft, evil spirits and then to physical illness. In the olden times, people who were observed to behave differently were thought to be afflicted by some kind of magic or spell that made them that way, and to cure them was to seek the help of the witch. As the year went by, Christianity changed the way we think about mental illness, people who exhibited violent and often frightening behavior was said to have been possessed by the demon and the priest was the only one who could vanquish the demon.
During this period, the practice of exorcism was accepted and priests were actually trained to exorcise demons. With the scientific revolution also came the medical model of the study of abnormal behavior. The medical model is perhaps the oldest framework in the study of abnormal behavior and with it is the belief that abnormal behaviors are mental illnesses, which means that it can be cured and treated. The first known mental institutions were in Europe and it was said that they were the first to commit mentally ill patients to a facility that would help them get better or for them to be removed from the society (Sue, Sue & Sue, 2005).
The methods of treatment were geared towards fixing what the cause of the abnormal behavior was. For example hysteria was thought to have come from repressed memories thus; the form of treatment was through electro-therapy that activated the memory and brought about the resolution of the problem. Another form of therapy that was advocated in this period was logotherapy (Comer, 2005) wherein a small hole was drilled to the skull to release the pressure inside the brain that was causing the abnormal behaviors.
Due to the idea that mental illness was a disease, the classification of the kinds of diseases and its symptoms where then devised to further the study on abnormal behavior. The scientific revolution had also influenced the doctors of that day to investigate and learn more about the different illnesses and the cure for those diseases. Emil Kraepelin (Sue, Sue & Sue, 2005) was the first to devise a classification system of abnormal behavior in keeping with the medical model; his contribution was that he paved the way for the identification of mental illnesses as a legitimate branch of medicine and not as a field of neurology.
Kraepelin researched hundreds of cases wherein he was able to provide a detailed definition of the different mental illness which he categorized into two broad groups, dementia praecox and manic depressive psychoses. What followed this period was a heavy reliance on the medical model wherein every mental illness was to have been caused by the brain or any physiological condition. As years went by, it was obvious that not all mental illnesses were caused by physiological problems.
It was found that the mind could also be the source of abnormal behavior. People tend to behave differently when they were under some stress or when they have difficulty in coping with major life events that brought about extreme emotions. For example, it was found that people who had an unusual fear of snakes would faint when confronted with the snake, when the person was examined by the doctor, aside from the fact that the person became unconscious there was nothing wrong with the person.
The irrational fear of any object, event or experience is called phobias and these were among the first abnormal behaviors that took the interest of a number of psychologists. This development led to the biopsychosocial model which says that there is a hierarchy and interrelations between the mental illnesses and the individual’s social, biological and psychological influences (Comer, 2005). This model however had also been deficit as it did not enable the identification of the causes of the mental illness or the aberrant behavior.
The theories on abnormal behavior explain the origins of abnormal behavior; the biophysical theory says that mental illness may be due to a physical condition or the use of drugs which have affected the body’s functions. The intrapsychich theories believe that emotional baggage affects the mental health of the individual and predisposes them to abnormal behavior.
Comer, R. J. (2005). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (4th Ed). NY: Freeman Sue, D. , Sue, D. W. , & Sue, S. (2005). Essentials of understanding abnormal behavior. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company