Chapter 2: Perspectives on Abnormal Behaviour

Chapter 2 Introduction

Jorden A. Cummings

Abnormal psychology is a broad and diverse topic of study that, as you will see in this chapter, has fascinated humans for centuries. There are many different lenses through which we can view abnormal behaviour. In this chapter we will discuss many of those lenses, illustrating and comparing how they conceptualize psychopathology. In the first part of this chapter, you’ll read about historical perspectives on abnormality, all the way from prehistoric beliefs through to the 18th and 19th centuries. As you will see, views on abnormality have always been influenced by the broader culture and historical context that they exist in.

You will then learn about the modern therapeutic orientations, beginning with the birth of abnormal psychology as a discipline: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. These orientations are used to explain abnormal behaviour and tell clinicians how to treat it. This section also covers humanistic and person-centred approaches, the behavioural and cognitive models as well as cognitive-behavioural therapy (which combine the two), acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches, and some emerging views on abnormality. Each of these orientations views abnormal behaviour slightly differently, although many of their ideas overlap and many orientations have informed one another. This chapter will also discuss the biological model of mental illness and psychopharmacology as a treatment option.

Another modern development, beginning in the 1990s, was the rise of evidence-based practice in clinical psychology and the development of criteria for evaluating the research evidence for various psychotherapies, in order to develop the distinction of “empirically supported treatment.” In the final part of this chapter, you will learn what evidence-based practice and empirically supported treatments involve, and also learn about characteristics for identifying the opposite: treatments that harm.


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Abnormal Psychology by Jorden A. Cummings is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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