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Chapter 3 Models of Abnormality

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1 Chapter 3 Models of Abnormality
Slides & Handouts by Karen Clay Rhines, Ph.D. Seton Hall University

2 Models of Abnormality What is a model or paradigm?
A set of assumptions and concepts that help us explain and interpret observations A school of thought Helpful because it spells out basic assumptions and sets guidelines for investigation It influences what investigators observe, the questions they ask, the information they seek, and their interpretation of that information

3 Models of Abnormality Historically, clinical scientists of a given time and place agreed on a single model of abnormality – a model strongly influenced by cultural beliefs Currently, there are several competing models of abnormality Why? Each model focuses on one aspect of human functioning and no single model can explain all aspects of abnormality

4 The Biological Model Takes a medical perspective
Main focus is that psychological abnormality is an illness brought about by malfunctioning parts of the organism Typically focused on the BRAIN

5 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Brain anatomy The brain is composed of ~100 billion nerve cells (called neurons) and thousands of billions of support cells (called glia) Within the brain, large groups of neurons form distinct areas called brain regions

6 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Brain anatomy and abnormal behavior Clinical researchers have found connections between certain psychological disorders and problems in specific brain areas Example: Huntington’s disease & basal ganglia (forebrain)

7 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Brain chemistry Information spreads throughout the brain in the form of electrical impulses that travel from one neuron to one or more others An impulse is first received at a neuron’s dendrites, travels down the axon, and is transmitted to other neurons through the nerve endings

8 Slide 8

9 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Brain chemistry Neurons don’t touch; they are separated by a space (the synapse), across which a message moves When an electrical impulse reaches a nerve ending, the nerve ending is stimulated to release a chemical (a neurotransmitter or “NT”) Some NTs tell receiving neurons to “fire”; other NTs tell receiving neurons to stop firing

10 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Role of brain chemistry in abnormal behavior Researchers have identified dozens of NTs Examples: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA Studies indicate that abnormal activity in certain NTs can lead to specific mental disorders Examples: depression (serotonin and norepinephrine) and anxiety (GABA)

11 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Role of brain chemistry Additionally, researchers have learned that mental disorders are sometimes related to abnormal chemical activity in the endocrine system Hormone release, triggered by a variety of factors, propels body organs into action. Abnormal secretions have been linked to psychological disorders Example: cortisol release is related to anxiety and mood disorders

12 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Biological abnormalities – genetics Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, each with numerous genes that control the characteristics and traits a person inherits Studies suggest that inheritance plays a part in mood disorders, schizophrenia, mental retardation, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental disorders Aren’t able (yet) to identify specific genes Don’t know the extent to which genetic factors contribute to disorders Seems no SINGLE gene is responsible for a particular behavior or disorder

13 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Biological abnormalities – evolution Genes that contribute to mental disorders are viewed as unfortunate occurrences: May be mutations May be inherited after a mutation in the family line Evolutionary theorists argue that we can best understand abnormality by examining the millions of years of human evolution Looking at a combination of adaptive behaviors of the past, genes, and the interaction between genes and current environmental events This model has been criticized and remains controversial

14 How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?
Biological abnormalities – viral infections Infection provides another possible source of abnormal brain structure or biochemical dysfunction Example: schizophrenia and prenatal viral exposure Interest in viral explanations of psychological disorders has been growing in the past decade Example: anxiety and mood disorders

15 Biological Treatments
Biological practitioners attempt to pinpoint the physical source of dysfunction to determine the course of treatment Three types of biological treatment: Drug therapy Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) Psychosurgery

16 Biological Treatments
Drug therapy: 1950s = advent of psychotropic medications Changed outlook for a number of mental disorders Four groups of drugs: Antianxiety drugs (anxiolytics; tranquilizers) Antidepressant drugs Antibipolar drugs (mood stabilizers) Antipsychotic drugs

17 Biological Treatments
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Currently experiencing a revival Used for severe depression when drugs and other therapies have failed In 60% of cases, ECT can lift symptoms within a few weeks

18 Biological Treatments
Psychosurgery: Historical roots in trephination 1930s = first lobotomy Much more precise than in the past Considered experimental and used only in extreme cases

19 Assessing the Biological Model
Strengths: Earns considerable respect in the field Fruitful Creates new therapies Suggests new avenues of research Weaknesses: Can limit rather than enhance our understanding Too simplistic Evidence is incomplete or inconclusive Treatments produce significant undesirable (negative) effects

20 The Psychodynamic Model
Oldest and most famous psychological model Based on belief that a person’s behavior is determined largely by underlying dynamic psychological forces of which she or he is not aware Abnormal symptoms are the result of conflict among these forces Father of psychodynamic theory and psychoanalytic therapy: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

21 How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Behavior?
Caused by three UNCONSCIOUS forces: Id – guided by the Pleasure Principle Instinctual needs, drives, & impulses Sexual; fueled by libido (sexual energy) Ego – guided by the Reality Principle Seeks gratification but guides us to know when we can & can’t get and express our wishes Ego defense mechanisms protect us from anxiety


23 How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Behavior?
Caused by three UNCONSCIOUS forces: Superego – guided by the Morality Principle Conscience; unconsciously adopted from our parents These three parts of the personality are often in conflict A healthy personality is one in which compromise exists between the parts If the id, ego, and superego are in excessive conflict, the person’s behavior may show signs of dysfunction

24 How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Behavior?
Developmental stages Freud proposed that at each stage of development, new events and pressures require adjustment in the id, ego, and superego If successful = personal growth If unsuccessful = fixation at an early developmental stage, leading to psychological abnormality Because parents are the key figures in early life, they are often seen as the cause of improper development

25 How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Behavior?
Developmental stages Oral (0 to 18 months of age) Anal (18 months to 3 years of age) Phallic (3 to 5 years of age) Latency (5 to 12 years of age) Genital (12 years of age to adulthood)

26 How Do Other Psychodynamic Explanations Differ from Freud’s?
Although current models deviate from Freud’s in fundamental ways, each retains the belief that human functioning is shaped by interacting forces: Ego theorists Emphasize the role of the ego; consider it independent Self theorists Emphasize the unified personality over any one component Object-relations theorists Emphasize the human need for interpersonal relationships

27 Psychodynamic Therapies
Range from Freudian psychoanalysis to more modern therapies All seek to uncover past trauma and inner conflicts Understanding early life experience critically important Therapist acts as “subtle guide”

28 Psychodynamic Therapies
Utilize various techniques: Free association Therapist interpretation Resistance Transference Dream interpretation Catharsis Working through Short-term dynamic therapies

29 Assessing the Psychodynamic Model
Strengths: First to recognize importance of psychological theories & treatment Saw internal conflict as important source of psychological health and abnormality First to apply theory and techniques systematically to treatment – monumental impact on the field Weaknesses: Unsupported ideas; difficult to research Non-observable Inaccessible to human subject (unconscious)


31 The Behavioral Model Like the psychodynamic perspective, behaviorism is deterministic, and is based on the idea that our actions are determined largely by our life experiences Emphasis is on observable behavior and environmental factors Focus on how behavior is acquired (learned) and maintained over time

32 The Behavioral Model Historical beginnings in laboratories where conditioning studies were conducted Several forms of conditioning: Operant conditioning Modeling Classical conditioning May produce normal or abnormal behavior

33 How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Operant conditioning Organism “operates” on environment and produces an effect Humans and animals learn to behave in certain ways as a result of receiving rewards whenever they do so

34 How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Modeling Individuals learn behavioral responses by observing and repeating behavior No direct reinforcement

35 How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Classical conditioning Learning by temporal association When two events repeatedly occur close together in time, they become fused in a person’s mind; before long, the person responds in the same way to both events Father of classical conditioning: Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936) Classic study using dogs & meat powder

36 Classical Conditioning
US Meat UR Salivate US Meat Tone UR Salivate + CS Tone CR Salivate

37 How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Classical conditioning If, after conditioning, the CS is repeatedly presented alone, it will eventually stop eliciting the CR This process is called extinction Explains many familiar behaviors (both normal and abnormal)

38 Behavioral Therapies Aim is to identify the behaviors that are causing problems and replace them with more appropriate ones May use classical conditioning, operant conditioning, or modeling Therapist is “teacher” rather than healer Early life experiences important only in providing clues to current learning

39 Behavioral Therapies Classical conditioning treatments may be used to change abnormal reactions to particular stimuli Example: systematic desensitization for phobia Step-by-step procedure Learn relaxation skills Develop a fear hierarchy Confront feared situations (covertly or in vivo)

40 Assessing the Behavioral Model
Strengths: Powerful force in the field Rooted in empiricism Phenomena can be observed and measured Significant research support for behavioral therapies Weaknesses: Too simplistic Unrealistic Downplays role of cognition New focus on self-efficacy, social cognition, and cognitive-behavioral theories

41 The Cognitive Model Seeks to account for behavior by studying the ways in which the person attends to, interprets, and uses available information Argues that clinicians must ask questions about assumptions, attitudes, and thoughts Concerned with internal processes Present-focused

42 How Do Cognitive Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Maladaptive thinking is the cause of maladaptive behavior Several kinds of faulty thinking: Faulty assumptions and attitudes Illogical thinking processes Example: overgeneralization

43 Cognitive Therapies People must be taught a new way of thinking to prevent maladaptive behavior Main model: Beck’s Cognitive Therapy The goal of therapy is to help clients recognize and restructure their thinking Therapists also guide clients to challenge dysfunctional thoughts, try out new interpretations, and apply new ways of thinking in their daily lives Widely used in treating depression

44 Assessing the Cognitive Model
Strengths: Broad appeal Clinically useful & effective Focuses on a uniquely human process Correlation between symptoms and maladaptive cognition Therapies effective in treating several disorders Adapt well to technology Research-based Weaknesses: Singular, narrow focus Overemphasis on the present Limited effectiveness Verification of cognition is difficult Precise role is hard to determine

45 The Humanistic-Existential Model
Combination model The humanist view Emphasis on people as friendly, cooperative, and constructive; focus on drive to self-actualization The existentialist view Emphasis on self-determination, choice, and individual responsibility; focus on authenticity

46 Rogers’ Humanistic Theory and Therapy
Basic human need for unconditional positive regard If received, leads to unconditional self-regard If not, leads to “conditions of worth” Incapable of self-actualization because of distortion – don’t know what they really need, etc. Rogers’ “client-centered” therapy Therapist provides unconditional positive regard Both accurate & genuine in reflection (reflective listening) Focus on the “experiencing person” Little research support

47 Gestalt Theory and Therapy
Humanistic approach Developed by Fritz Perls Goal is to achieve self-recognition through challenge and frustration Techniques: Skillful frustration Role playing Rules, including “Here and Now” and “I” language

48 Spiritual Views and Interventions
For most of the twentieth century, clinical scientists viewed religion as a negative factor in mental health This alienation now seems to be ending: Numerous books have been published Ethical codes now include religion under “diversity” Researchers have begun to systematically study the influence of religion and spirituality on mental health Many therapists now address spiritual issues when treating religious clients

49 Existential Theories and Therapy
Psychological dysfunction is caused by self-deception: people hide from life’s responsibilities and fail to recognize that it is up to them to give meaning to their lives Therapy is focused on patient acceptance of personal responsibility and recognition of freedom of action Goals more important than technique Great emphasis placed on client-therapist relationship

50 Assessing the Humanistic-Existential Model
Strengths: Emphasizes the individual Taps into domains missing from other theories Non-deterministic Optimistic Emphasizes health Weaknesses: Focuses on abstract issues Not much influence Weakened by disapproval of scientific approach Changing somewhat

51 The Sociocultural Model
Argues that abnormal behavior is best understood in light of the social and cultural forces that influence an individual Addresses norms and roles in society Influenced by sociology and anthropology Argues that we must examine a person’s social surroundings to understand their (abnormal) behavior

52 How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Focus on: Family structure and communication Family systems theory = abnormal functioning within family leads to abnormal behavior (insane behavior becomes sane in an insane environment) Examples: enmeshed, disengaged structures Role of culture Role of social networks/support

53 How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?
Focus on: Societal conditions Abnormality more common in lower classes. Why? Societal labels & roles Diagnostic labels (example: Rosenhan study) Sick role

54 Sociocultural Treatments
May include traditional individual therapy Broadened therapy to include: Culturally-sensitive therapy Group therapy Family therapy Couples therapy Community treatment Includes prevention work

55 Assessing the Sociocultural Model
Strengths: Added greatly to the clinical understanding of abnormality Increased awareness of labeling Clinically successful when other treatments have failed Weaknesses: Research is difficult to interpret Correlation  causation Model unable to predict abnormality in specific individuals


57 Integration of the Models
Each perspective is valuable to understanding abnormal behavior Different perspectives are more appropriate under differing conditions An integrative approach provides a general framework for thinking about abnormal behavior while also allowing for specification of the factors that are especially pertinent to particular disorders

58 Integration of the Models
Many theorists, clinicians, and practitioners adhere to a biopsychosocial model Abnormality results from the interaction of genetic, biological, developmental, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, and societal influences Also popular: Diathesis-stress approach Diathesis = predisposition (bio, psycho, or social) Reciprocal effects explanation

59 Integration of the Models
Integrative therapists are often called “eclectic” – taking the strengths from each model and using them in combination

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