An Overview Of Abnormal Psychology: Disorders And Treatments

By Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated May 17, 2019

Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Virtually everyone has heard of psychology at one point or another. However, abnormal psychology is another branch of the study which is less commonly talked about and discussed.


Abnormal psychology is defined by Wikipedia as "the branch of psychology that studies unusual patterns of behavior, emotion and thought, which may or may not be understood as precipitating a mental disorder."

This particular branch of psychology is very important, especially in today's day and age. There are all kinds of factors which could contribute to mental disorders, mental health issues, or simply behaviors which are abnormal or atypical. Abnormal psychology allows specialists to study, understand, and even potentially diagnose certain conditions.

Reviewing Abnormal Psychology

Before one can thoroughly understand abnormal psychology, it's important to understand all which abnormal entails. By default, abnormal does not necessarily mean "bad." Depending on certain circumstances, abnormal can be "bad," but in certain settings, it can also be good. At its core, abnormality simply means deviating from the "norm" or what is average. In many cases, what is "average" is not always best.

For instance, many people would say that it's "normal" to go to college, get a degree, and enter into a profession which pays the bills even if you are not necessarily passionate about it. By default, someone who decides to go on a different path and pursue a freelance career which they love would be deviating from the norm; hence they would classify as abnormal in the most basic form. However, in this particular situation, an abnormality is not necessarily bad.

Unfortunately, in many cases, there are times where abnormalities do fall on the negative end of the spectrum. This is commonly seen in cases where certain individuals suffer from mental health issues, emotional disorders or various problems which deviate from the norm, but not in a good way. However, there are a variety of approaches associated with abnormal psychology.

The ability to comprehend the different approaches and the reasoning behind them makes all the difference in the world.

The Psychoanalytic Approach

In a nutshell, the psychoanalytical approach of abnormal psychology emphasizes the roles which subconscious memories, thoughts, and urges wield on atypical conduct. In most cases, specialists who approach abnormal psychology from the psychoanalytic angle believe that studying subconscious memories, thoughts, and urges can help improve atypical behaviors. Generally, this particular approach also believes that looking into the feelings associated with the behaviors above makes a positive difference towards rehabilitation.

The Behavioral Approach

As the name suggests, the behavioral approach to abnormal psychology focuses on the specific conduct of the afflicted individual. This particular angle of going about abnormal psychology emphasizes enforcing positive behavior patterns as a way of overriding the adverse, atypical behaviors. Ultimately, the goal of this particular approach is to get rid of the negative behavior by overriding it with positive conduct. The behavioral approach to abnormal psychology could face certain criticisms for not addressing the underlying motives beneath atypical behavior.

The Medical Approach


The medical approach to abnormal psychology focuses on certain hereditary plights and genetic issues which could contribute to atypical behaviors. Sometimes, psychotherapy is issued as a form of treatment when this particular approach is taken; however, the medical angle of abnormal psychology is overwhelmingly emphasizing the role which biology, chemical imbalances, and even bodily illnesses can play on certain atypical behaviors. This particular approach is very critical because there are certain biological and hereditary factors which can play a role in mental illnesses and other disorders.

The Cognitive Approach

The cognitive approach to abnormal psychology shares some similarities to the psychoanalytical approach. However, with the cognitive approach, internal reasonings, interpretations, and thoughts are given a spotlight on the impact which they have on abnormal psychology. When undergoing cognitive treatment, patients are encouraged to alter their internal thoughts or their external reactions to certain occurrences in the real world. A common cognitive treatment for abnormalities in afflicted individuals is cognitive behavioral therapy.

Reviewing Psychology Disorders


First and foremost, it's important to understand that there are a variety of psychological disorders. There are also many factors which can impact the intensity of certain disorders; sometimes, people can undergo traumatic experiences which generate certain psychological issues. A very common example of this is post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.

Genetics and biology play a role in one's psychological health or lack thereof. Of course, this not to say that someone is doomed to suffer psychologically simply because others in their family have done the same as well. Ultimately, there are many elements which can impact whether or not certain illnesses or disorders are passed down. This is something which many psychologists and mental health specialists are still studying and learning about even to this day.

While there is a plethora of psychological disorders, they generally fall under certain categories. Some examples of the applicable categories include:

  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders

Treatment For Psychological Disorders

The treatment and rehabilitation which is administered for various psychological disorders vary and depend upon a series of factors. One largely important factor is simply the approach which the specialist takes to the existence of abnormal psychology. Some specialists believe that the medical approach is the way, while psychologists specialize in the psychoanalytic or the behavioral approach.

When dealing with abnormal psychology, there is no one-size-fits-all. Some approaches are more appropriate and fitting for certain disorders than others. The medical approach may work for certain patients whereas a different patient may be rehabilitated from undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. At the end of the day, the specialist who is responsible for treating the afflicted patient has the responsibility of determining which approach is most appropriate. This is why it takes years of study, credentials, and licenses before one can professional practice as a psychologist.

A Word For Those Who Might Be Suffering

If you believe that you may have a psychological disorder, then it's important for you to understand that you are not alone. It's also critical to understand that dealing with this issue does not make you less than. However, you will find working with a mental health specialist to be beneficial. No matter who you are or what your situation may be, a psychologist can be of great service to you and provide the proper care and guidance.


Overcoming The Stigma Surrounding Abnormal Psychology And Seeking Help

There has almost always been a certain stigma surrounding abnormal psychology and seeking the appropriate help. In previous decades, individuals who suffered from mental health issues were simply told to brush it off and get over it. This was extremely harmful malpractice which did an astounding amount of harm. Thankfully, as the times have progressed, more and more people realize the immense value of studying abnormal psychology and the help which these studies can provide to afflicted individuals.

The stigma surrounding the decision to seek out psychological help is gradually going away, although it remains present in certain circles. Sometimes, individuals are led to believe that asking for help makes them weak or otherwise less than. This is simply not true. The important thing to understand is that everyone goes through tough times regardless of how strong or independent which they may seem on the outside.

There is never any shame in asking for help, meeting with a professional, or even sitting down with a psychologist simply to have a conversation. No two people are exactly alike nor will any two people precisely benefit from the same treatment. Each situation is unique and different.

Help Will Be Available To Those Who Ask For It

In previous times, psychological help and assistance were not always available to people who were critically in need of it. Thankfully, this is something which has changed as humanity has evolved. In this day and age, there are mental health services available to those who need them.

BetterHelp is a prime example of this. We have an abundance of great psychologists, therapists and mental health specialists who would be thrilled to work with you and provide any help that you need. When it's all said and done, our top priority is being of service to you and providing the best care possible no matter who you are or what your story may be.

Things may seem dark or challenging now, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. You can rise above anything and make a better life for yourself. As far as BetterHelp is concerned, we will always be there to provide the needed assistance and guidance.

Whenever you are ready to take that step and make the rest of your life the best of your life, you can do so with BetterHelp at any time by clicking here.

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