What is Abnormal psychology? Meaning, history, and Theoretical perspectives

What is Abnormal psychology? Meaning, history, and Theoretical perspectives

Human brain

The study of psychopathology and abnormal conduct, or the thought, emotion, and behavior patterns that may indicate a mental health issue, is known as abnormal psychology. The phrase encompasses a wide range of problems, including personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression.

Psychotherapists, psychologists, and counselors frequently work directly in this field, frequently in a clinical setting. Psychologists in this profession concentrate on the potential level of distress that behaviors, ideas, or emotions could produce rather than the line that separates normal from aberrant.

Examining Abnormal Behavior

A conduct is considered “abnormal” if it is causing problems in the individual’s life or if it is upsetting to others. In certain situations, the behavior can call for mental health treatment of some kind.

It is rare to witness abnormal behavior. Still, statistical infrequency by itself does not provide a satisfactory characterization. Additionally, some desirable, healthful habits are sporadic. Nor does it matter what other unusual traits or behaviors a person has in terms of behavior or functioning. It does not follow that something should be classified as abnormal simply because it is uncommon or unique.

Also Read: Forensic Psychology vs Criminal Psychology

Distress is caused by abnormal conduct. These actions could be distressing and bothersome to others, or they might disturb the individual. The functioning of an individual is impacted by abnormal conduct. These behaviors can make it difficult for the person exhibiting them to go about their everyday lives regularly, which can have an impact on their relationships, jobs, education, and home lives.

Topics in Abnormal Psychology

The investigation, comprehension, identification, management, and avoidance of psychological illnesses are the principal foci of abnormal psychology. Behavioral or psychological symptoms that are repetitive and affect several aspects of life are referred to as psychological illnesses. The person exhibiting symptoms of these diseases is distressed.

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is used for many purposes by mental health professionals. A list of mental illnesses, diagnostic codes, prevalence data for each condition, and diagnostic standards are all included in the handbook. The following are a few categories of psychiatric disorders:

  • Multiple anxiety-inducing disorders, including GAD, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
  • Mood disorders include BPD (bipolar disorder) and depression.
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions including autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities neurocognitive conditions, such as delirium
  • BPD, OCD and avoidant personality disorder.

Also Read: Intellectual Disability: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Historical context of abnormal psychology.

The study and management of behavior considered abnormal or deviant (either statistically, functionally, morally, or in another sense) has a long history, and the methods employed have frequently varied among cultures. Many theories from the broader field of psychology and other sources are used by the area of abnormal psychology to identify many explanations for various illnesses, but much still depends on what is meant to be “abnormal.” There has historically been a distinction between biological and psychological explanations, which is indicative of a dualistic philosophy concerning the mind-body issue. Different methods have also been used in the attempt to categorize mental illnesses. Subnormal, supernormal, and paranormal are the three classifications that fall under the umbrella of abnormal.

Abnormal behavior was frequently viewed in prehistoric civilizations as the product of evil spirits, Satan, deities, or witches who had taken possession of the individual. It was thought that this type of demonic possession happened when the victim behaved in a way that went against the prevalent religious doctrine at the time. The trephination procedure, which was employed by cave inhabitants as a form of treatment, involved cutting a portion of the skull open with a stone tool called a trephine. They thought that the opening in the skull would allow evil spirits to exit, curing the sufferer’s mental illness and allowing them to resume their regular activities.

Theoretical perspectives

Abnormal psychologists investigate mental, cognitive, and/or behavioral disorders that persons face. conduct that is upsetting (socially unacceptable), stressful, maladaptive (or self-defeating), and frequently the outcome of warped thinking (cognition) is referred to as abnormal conduct. A number of theories and views (models, methods based on data) make an effort to explain why aberrant behavior occurs.

1) The medical perspective:

Those who have a medical perspective look at biological and physiological aspects as the origins of abnormal conduct, which is treated as a disease or mental illness, diagnosed by symptoms, and cured by treatment. Hospitalization and medicines are frequently chosen treatment options above psychological evaluation. (Recent research correlating metabolic abnormalities with various atypical behaviors lends support to this approach.)

Also Read: Cognition and Aging: How Age Impacts Memory and Mental Abilities?

2) The psychodynamic perspective:

The psychodynamic approach, suggested as a substitute to the medical model, arose from Freudian theory of psychoanalysis, which holds that psychological diseases are the result of anxiety caused by unresolved, unconscious conflicts. Treatment focuses on identifying and resolving issues.

3) The behavioral perspective:

Advocates of a behavioral perspective argue that poor or inefficient learning and conditioning cause abnormal behavior. The goal of treatments is to modify abnormal behavior and, through traditional learning methods, instruct individuals in developing new, more suitable, and adaptive responses. For example, a behavioral analysis of a child abuse case may conclude that a father abuses his children because he learnt abusive conduct from his father and must now learn more suitable parenting techniques.

4) The cognitive perspective:

The cognitive perspective suggests that individuals engage in deviant behavior due to specific ideas and behaviors, often rooted in incorrect assumptions. Designed to help individuals with maladjustment, treatments aim to facilitate the acquisition of new cognitive processes and values. Therapy is the process of unlearning and replacing harmful habits with more beneficial ones.

Also Read: Is It Possible To Work With Schizophrenia?

5) The social‐cultural perspective:

Social contexts, including family, community, and culture, shape abnormal behavior. People believe that cultural characteristics acquired through learning and cognitive processes significantly influence abnormal behavior. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia, for example, are psychological disorders prevalent in Western cultures that place a high priority on the slim female body.


Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that studies human behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that fall outside the statistical or societal norm, with “norm” being a relative term. More understanding and empathy, especially in recent years, have helped shed light on this field and on mental health disorders, lifting stigma and ushering in a new era for medical treatment and therapy. The richness and complexity of the abnormal branch of psychology means there are plenty of opportunities to explore, whether that leads you to research or to practice.

  • Perspectives on Abnormal Behavior. (n.d.). https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/psychology/psychology/abnormal-psychology/perspectives-on-abnormal-behavior#:~:text=From%20the%20social%E2%80%90cultural%20perspective,important%20in%20producing%20abnormal%20behavior.
  • What is abnormal psychology? (2023, September 19). UAGC. https://www.uagc.edu/blog/what-abnormal-psychology
  • Daffin, A. B. &. L. W., Jr, Cuttler, C., & Cummings, J. A. (2020, July 2). 2.1 Historical perspectives on mental illness. Pressbooks. https://openpress.usask.ca/abnormalpsychology/chapter/part-2/#:~:text=Prehistoric%20cultures%20often%20held%20a,religious%20teachings%20of%20the%20time.

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