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Psychopathology

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Psychopathology

An array of mental health disorders exist within England alone, with 1 in 4 people said to experience a mental health problem each year. With such a high prevalence of mental health disorders, the need to correctly study, diagnose, and treat these disorders is paramount. This is where psychopathology comes in. But what is psychopathology? Let's find out.

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What is psychopathology?

Psychopathology is the study of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and phobias. The key to diagnosing these disorders is a person's behaviour. If someone behaves abnormally they may have a psychological condition. There are different approaches to treating psychological disorders: behavioural, biological and cognitive.

Definitions of abnormality

Psychopathology is defined using abnormal (maladaptive) behaviour, but how do we define behaviour as abnormal?

Abnormal behaviour is statistically infrequent. If behaviours deviate from the population enough, these behaviours can then be deemed abnormal. Some psychopathologies are not as rare as they once were, however, and this comes from improved diagnostic tools and better education.

Only 1% of people can touch their nose with their tongue so that behaviour is abnormal. IQ is another example, so low IQ or high IQ can be seen as abnormal, however, those with a higher IQ are generally not seen as having a negative trait, so we can see why statistical infrequency is not a concrete measuring tool.

Abnormal behaviour may also deviate from social norms, such as someone pushing into the front of a queue. Social norms are unwritten and are tolerant to cultural differences:

If one culture normally covers their hair or face, it would not be seen as abnormal. However, those outside of that culture may deem it abnormal. Individuality may also be frowned upon.

Abnormal behaviour may also prevent proper function. They cannot function or cope with daily life challenges. However, abnormal behaviour doesn't account for psychopaths, for instance, who technically display abnormal behaviour but function optimally in society.

Those who have depression may not feel well enough to go to work every day. These behaviours are frowned upon by observers. This is highly subjective, however, as what is unacceptable to some is not unacceptable to others.

Finally, abnormal behaviour is that which deviates from ideal mental health, like becoming anxious every time you leave the house.

Ideal mental health has six features: environmental mastery, resisting stress, positive self attitudes, autonomy, accurate reality perception, and self-actualisation.

Individuality is the focus here (holistic approach) and is inherently a western concept due to the focus on individuality. This is hard to achieve for some, however, and has issues with being widely applicable.

Psychopathology: studying abnormalities

Psychopathology is the study of these abnormalities and their associated mental health disorders. Here, we have established focus areas for your exams.

Phobias

Fear becomes a mental disorder when it begins to affect our lives and our ability to function. We can identify when fear has become a phobia through identifying behavioural, emotional and cognitive characteristics.

A behavioural characteristic of a phobia would be avoidance of the object, an emotional characteristic would be high levels of anxiety around the object, and a cognitive characteristic would be irrational beliefs about the object.

An example of a phobia includes:

Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.

Top tip! There are numerous ways to treat phobias but for your exams, you will need to know the behavioural approach which uses conditioning and desensitisation to help patients.

Depression

Depression is a low mood that lasts for an extended period of time and affects your everyday life. There are many types of depression and different ways of treating it such as medication and therapy. Again, identifying depression involves behavioural, emotional and cognitive characteristics.

For instance, weight loss would be a behavioural characteristic, low mood would be an emotional characteristic, and poor concentration would be a cognitive characteristic of depression.

An example of depression includes:

Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression caused by changes in weather and light throughout the year.

Top tip! For your exam, you will need to know the cognitive approach to depression, which treats depression by addressing and changing your thought processes.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a mental illness that causes recurrent thoughts and compulsions which interfere with everyday activities. These are beyond the sufferer’s control, take up a significant part of their day and aren’t enjoyable.

For instance, excessive checking is a behavioural characteristic, anxiety caused by these excessive checking behaviours is an emotional characteristic, and recurring thoughts of worst-case scenarios are cognitive characteristics.

An example of OCD includes:

Thinking that if you don’t turn the lights on and off in your house before you go to bed, your family will die is an example of OCD.

Top tip! For A-Level Psychology, you will study the biological approach to explaining and treating OCD using drug therapies.

Each approach – behavioural, emotional, and cognitive – addresses certain areas or symptoms when trying to treat the disorder.

Psychopathology - Key takeaways

  • Psychopathology is the scientific study of mental health conditions.
  • Abnormal behaviour is the main indicator of psychological illness.
  • Behaviour or mood becomes a sign of mental illness when it begins to affect our everyday lives and continues for an extended period of time.
  • There are many different approaches to how we should define, identify and treat mental health issues.
  • These may be biological, cognitive or behavioural.

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychopathology

The symptoms of psychopathology are disputed. Some think that psychopathology can be identified through deviation from social and statistical norms. Others think that an inability to deal with everyday life and poor mental health are signs of psychopathological conditions such as OCD, depression and anxiety.

No. Psychopathology simply refers to the scientific study of mental disorders such as phobias. Being a psychopath is a type of psychological disorder characterised by a lack of empathy and antisocial behaviour.

No. In many cases the definitions of psychopathology are culturally and temporally dependent, meaning that not all definitions of psychopathology are universal.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


Psychopathology is the scientific study of psychological disorders.

Final Psychopathology Quiz

Question

What is psychopathology? 




Show answer

Answer

Psychopathology is the scientific study 

of psychological disorders.

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Question

How is psychopathology measured?

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Answer

Psychological disorders can be measured in many ways. The four main ways are statistical infrequency,  deviation from social norms, deviation from ideal mental health, failure to function adequately.

Show question

Question

When does a behaviour become 

a mental disorder? 



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Answer

If an individual displays behaviours which are abnormal and repeated over a long period of time, causing distress and preventing the individual from participating in everyday life, they can be diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Show question

Question

What are some of the ways 

to treat mental disorders? 



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Answer

We can treat mental disorders through cognitive, biological and behavioural approaches.

Show question

Question

Give an example of a phobia?



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Answer

Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.

Show question

Question

When does a fear become a phobia?



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Answer

When it begins to affect the person’s everyday life. For example not being able to go out because you are afraid of social interaction.

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Question

How can we treat phobias? 



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Answer

Using desensitisation and conditioning (a behavioural approach).

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Question

Give an example of a compulsion (OCD).




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Answer

Turning all the lights on and off and thinking that if you 

don’t something bad will happen.

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How is OCD treated?



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Answer

One way OCD is treated is with drug therapy.

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Question

How is depression treated?




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Answer

One way depression is treated is with a cognitive approach, which focuses on changing sufferers thoughts patterns.

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Question

How is behaviour defined as abnormal?




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Answer

Abnormal behaviours are those which are either statistically infrequent, prevent proper function, deviate from ideal mental health or deviate from social norms.


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Question

What does OCD stand for?



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Answer

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


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Question

Is psychopathology a medical term?




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Answer

It is a psychological term that refers to the scientific study of 

psychological disorders in order to treat them


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Question

Give an example of abnormal behaviour 




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Answer

Being able to curl your tongue.

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Question

OCD involved recurrent …… and compulsions? 



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Answer

Unpleasant thoughts.

Show question

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