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Abnormal Psychology

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Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology dealing with the definition and discussion of abnormal behaviour and how abnormal behaviour can be an indicator of mental illness. What is considered abnormal can be determined using statistics, social norms, and functioning, and is made up of disorders of cognition, disturbances of affect, and problem behaviours.

Worldwide, the prevalence of mental illness over an individual's life is estimated at 18.1 - 36.1%1, demonstrating its occurrence through different cultures. However, even though mental disorders occur cross-culturally, differences in cultural beliefs are important when examining behaviour.

While in the past abnormal behaviour was often seen as caused by supernatural forces such as evil spirits or witchcraft, a biological approach emerged in which mental illness was treated more as a health issue like any other ailment. Modern theories of abnormal psychology now focus primarily on biological, psychological, and social theories, including psychoanalytic theories, behaviourism, cognitive approaches, and interpersonal theories.

Within abnormal psychology, careers often include psychiatry, clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, clinical social work, psychiatric nursing, and counselling psychology. Individuals in these careers create treatment programs for those with mental illness, including assessment and diagnosis, drug therapy, and other methods such as cognitive-behavioural therapy. Treatments for individuals with mental illness can occur in private practices, mental hospitals, and community-based treatment centres.

The main topics examined and researched in abnormal psychology include stress disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform and dissociative disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders, childhood disorders, cognitive disorders, eating disorders, sexual disorders, and substance-related disorders.

Abnormal psychology is a highly used topic on BrainMass, with answers available in the library related to various disorders, treatment, assessment, theoretical models and historical perspectives. There are also free quizzes available in this subject along with eBooks created by our experienced Experts.



1. Kessler, R. C., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Chatterji, S., Lee, S., Ormel, J., et al. (2009). The global burden of mental disorders: an update from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) surveys. Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 18(1), 23-33.

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Categories within Abnormal Psychology

Somatoform and Dissociative Disorders

Postings: 19

Somatoform disorders involve a physical malady with seemingly no physiological cause while dissociative disorders consist of a disruption in normal cognitive functioning, including memory and sense of self.

Mood Disorders

Postings: 79

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, are very common disorders that involve unhappiness, loss of hope, feelings of worthlessness, and in bipolar disorder, this is accompanied by periods of mania.


Postings: 37

Suicide is often associated with various mental disorders and can be a result of these disorders, as well as stressful life events or drug abuse.


Postings: 45

Schizophrenia is a disease associated with an impairment in cognitive functioning and a disruption in typical emotional states, including symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

Cognitive Disorders and Life-Span Issues

Postings: 68

As aging occurs, various cognitive disorders may develop, including Alzheimer's, dementia, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse, and the treatment behind these disorders must be provided with special consideration of the individual's age.

Eating Disorders

Postings: 31

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa involve negative views towards one's own body and feelings of the need to control one's weight, which may consist of restricting food intake or episodes of binging and purging.

Sexual Disorders

Postings: 33

Sexual disorders can involve dysfunctions with the sexual response cycle, like sexual arousal disorders, as well as paraphilias and gender identity disorders.

Substance-Related Disorders

Postings: 121

Use of substances such as depressants, stimulants, and opioids can eventually lead to substance abuse and dependence, which results in addiction to the substance and withdrawal when the substance is not taken.

Mental Health and the Law

Postings: 150

When an individual is suffering from a mental illness so severely that they cannot be held responsible for their actions and cannot function in society, they may qualify for an insanity defense in a court of law or be civilly committed into a hospital for treatment.

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