In a world captivated by recent podcasts, documentaries, and comprehensive overviews, abnormal psychology’s allure lies in unraveling the intricately woven tapestry of diverse health conditions, emotional states, interpersonal dynamics, and behavioral phenomena, inviting us to embark on a journey of profound exploration and understanding. 
If psychology is the study of human behavior, then abnormal psychology takes us down a path we all have come to know, and well, obsess over: human behavior that follows unusual patterns, unpredictable tendencies, mental illnesses, and the like. As recent podcasts, documentaries, and even this overview will show you, abnormal psychology is a fascinating field full of complex health, emotional, relational, and behavioral conditions to explore. Let’s get started.

In delving into abnormal psychology, we venture beyond the conventional study of human behavior, immersing ourselves in the intriguing realm of uncommon patterns, unexpected inclinations, and the intricacies of mental disorders. 

What Is Abnormal Psychology?

The field of abnormal psychology seeks to understand, classify, diagnose, and treat psychological disorders, as well as to explore the various factors that contribute to these mental health disorders. Researchers and clinicians in this field examine a wide range of conditions, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, mental health disorders, eating disorders, and more.

According to a mental health expertise site Verywell Mind, abnormal psychology is a subset of psychology that, as mentioned above, studies abnormal patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that may be signs of a mental illness. Mental illnesses include those such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, bipolar affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and many more types that may be studied within abnormal psychology.

Why Is it Called “Abnormal” Psychology?

In recent years, there has been a shift in the terminology used within the field of psychology to reduce stigma and promote a more empathetic and compassionate approach. Terms like “psychological disorders” or “mental health conditions” are often preferred over “abnormal psychology” to emphasize that these conditions are a part of the human experience and can be addressed with understanding and support. The change in language reflects a broader understanding of mental health and aims to reduce the negative connotations associated with the word “abnormal.”

Simply Psychology also explains that “abnormal” should not be perceived with a negative connotation. Rather, the term signifies the behavior or emotion displayed deviates from statistical or societal standards.

Verywell Mind elucidates further: “The term ‘abnormal’ is the subject of considerable debate. What exactly is ‘normal’ and who gets to decide? The social norms that are often used to determine what is normal versus abnormal can shift over time, so settling on a standard definition isn’t simple or straightforward.”

Branches of Psychology

According to Explore Psychology, there are 28 major branches of psychology:

  1. Abnormal psychology
  2. Behavioral psychology
  3. Biological psychology
  4. Clinical psychology
  5. Cognitive psychology
  6. Community psychology
  7. Consumer psychology
  8. Counseling psychology
  9. Criminal psychology
  10. Cross-cultural psychology
  11. Developmental psychology
  12. Educational psychology
  13. Engineering psychology
  14. Environmental psychology
  15. Evolutionary psychology
  16. Experimental psychology
  17. Forensic psychology
  18. Health psychology
  19. Humanistic psychology
  20. Industrial-organizational psychology
  21. Media psychology
  22. Military psychology
  23. Personality psychology
  24. Positive psychology
  25. Psychoanalysis
  26. School psychology
  27. Social psychology
  28. Sports psychology

The branch of psychology that is concerned with the study of abnormal behavior is, not surprisingly, abnormal psychology. Further, within the branch of abnormal psychology, there is both research and practice for professionals to explore, and each area involves a different path. Research seeks to increase the knowledge and understanding base, per Verywell Mind, while the practice of abnormal psychology helps to solve mental health problems and disorders, such as mental health illnesses, in the real world. 

What Is the Study of Abnormal Psychology?

Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the study of atypical behavior, thoughts, and emotions. The term “abnormal” in this context refers to behaviors and mental processes that deviate from the norms or expectations of a given society or culture. However, the term itself can be problematic, as it carries value judgments and can stigmatize individuals who experience mental health challenges. 

What Are the Perspectives of Abnormal Psychology?

If you haven’t caught on yet, abnormal psychology is a dense field of study. The expression “CliffsNotes version” comes in handy right about now. According to CliffsNotes, there are several major perspectives within abnormal psychology. These five perspectives include:

  1. The Medical Perspective: The medical perspective views psychological disorders as similar to physical diseases, with underlying biological causes. It emphasizes factors like genetics, brain chemistry, and neurobiology in explaining the development and manifestation of disorders. Treatment often involves interventions such as medication and medical procedures to address these underlying biological issues.
  2. The Psychodynamic Perspective: Developed by Sigmund Freud, this perspective focuses on unconscious conflicts and early childhood experiences as the root causes of psychological disorders. It suggests unresolved conflicts can lead to psychological distress and abnormal behavior. Therapy based on this perspective aims to bring these unconscious conflicts to consciousness and resolve them through techniques like free association and interpretation.
  3. The Behavioral Perspective: The behavioral perspective emphasizes observable behaviors and how they’re learned through interactions with the environment. It suggests that abnormal behaviors are a result of maladaptive learning, often influenced by reinforcement, punishment, and conditioning. Therapies based on this perspective, such as behavior therapy, focus on modifying behaviors through techniques like exposure therapy, operant conditioning, and systematic desensitization.
  4. The Cognitive Perspective: The cognitive perspective focuses on the role of distorted or dysfunctional thought patterns in the development of psychological disorders. It suggests that how individuals interpret situations and events can lead to negative emotions and behaviors. Cognitive therapies aim to identify and modify these negative thought patterns to promote healthier thinking and emotional well-being.
  5. The Socio-Cultural Perspective: The socio-cultural perspective emphasizes the influence of cultural, societal, and environmental factors on the development and expression of psychological disorders. It recognizes that norms, values, and social expectations vary across cultures and can impact the way disorders are perceived and therefore experienced. This perspective also considers how social support systems and cultural beliefs influence the course of treatment and recovery.

All of these perspectives provide different lenses through which you can understand and approach abnormal psychology. It’s important to note that many contemporary approaches to understanding psychological disorders incorporate elements from multiple perspectives, as the field recognizes the complex and multifaceted nature of mental health conditions.

Overview: What Is Abnormal Psychology?

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. 

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