The psychological model of abnormality also stems from ancient Greece. In the second century c.e., the Greek physician Galen described a patient whose symptoms were caused either by an inflammation of the uterus or by something about which she was troubled but which she was not willing to discuss. He tested these two hypotheses and concluded that the patient's problem was psychological in origin.
The psychological model gained support when French physician JeanMartin Charcot (1825-1893) used hypnosis to distinguish hysterical paralysis (with no organic cause) from neurologically based paralysis. When Charcot hypnotized patients, those with hysterical paralysis could use their supposedly paralyzed body part. One of his students, Austrian physician Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), expanded this approach. Freud and others believed that mental disorders usually begin with a traumatic event in childhood and can be treated with psychotherapy, a form of "talking cure." Today, there are four main psychological models of abnormality: psychoanalytic, behavioral, humanistic, and cognitive.
psychoanalytic model. A psychoanalytic model, stemming from Freud, emphasizes the role of parental influences, unconscious conflicts, guilt, frustration, and an array of defense mechanisms that people use, unconsciously, to ward off anxiety. According to this view, people develop psychological problems because they have inner conflicts intense enough to overwhelm their normal defenses.
Freud thought that all people have some aspects of their personality that are innate and self-preserving (the id), some aspects of their personality that are learned rules or conscience (the superego), and some aspects of their personality that are realistic (the ego). For example, the id of a person who is hungry wants to eat immediately, in any manner, regardless of the time or social conventions. However, it may be time to meet with the supervisor for an important review. The superego insists on meeting with the supervisor right now, for as long as necessary. The ego may be able to balance personal needs and society's requirements by, for example, bringing bagels for everyone to the meeting with the supervisor. People must somehow harmonize the instinctual and unreasoning desires of the id, the moral and restrictive demands of the superego, and the rational and realistic requirements of the ego.
Conflicts between the id, ego, and superego may lead to unpleasant and anxious feelings. People develop defense mechanisms to handle these feelings. Defense mechanisms can alleviate anxiety by staving off the conscious awareness of conflicts that would be too painful to acknowledge. A psychoanalytic view is that everyone uses defense mechanisms, and abnormality is simply the result of overblown defense mechanisms.
Some of the most prominent defense mechanisms are repression, regression, displacement, reaction formation, sublimation, and projection. In repression, a person forgets something that causes anxiety. For example, a student who genuinely forgets her meeting with her professor about a make-up test has repressed the appointment. In regression, a person reverts back to activities and feelings of a younger age. For example, a toddler who reclaims his old discarded bottle when a new baby sister comes on the scene is regressing. In displacement, a person has very strong feelings toward one person but feels for some reason unable to express them. Subsequently, she finds herself expressing these feelings toward a safer person. For example, a person who is extremely angry with her boss at work may keep these feelings to herself until she gets home but then find herself very angry with her husband, children, and pets. In reaction formation, people have very strong feelings that are somehow unacceptable, and they react in the opposite way. For example, a person who is campaigning against adult bookstores in the community may be secretly fascinated with pornography. In sublimation, a person rechannels energy, typically sexual energy, into socially acceptable outlets. For example, a woman who is attracted to the young men in swimsuits at the pool may decide to swim one hundred laps. In projection, people notice in others traits or behaviors that are too painful to admit in themselves. For example, a person who is very irritated by his friend's whining may have whining tendencies himself that he cannot admit. All defense mechanisms are unconscious ways to handle anxiety.
The psychoanalytic model opened up areas for discussion that were previously taboo and helped people to understand that some of their motivations are outside their own awareness. For example, dissociative disorders occur when a person's thoughts and feelings are dissociated, or separated, from conscious awareness by memory loss or a change in identity. In dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality, the individual alternates between an original or primary personality and one or more secondary or subordinate personalities. A psychoanalytic model would see dissociative identity disorder as stemming from massive repression to ward off unacceptable impulses, particularly those of a sexual nature. These yearnings increase during adolescence and adulthood, until the person finally expresses them, often in a guilt-inducing sexual act. Then, normal forms of repression are ineffective in blocking out this guilt, so the person blocks the acts and related thoughts entirely from consciousness by developing a new identity for the dissociated bad part of self.
The psychoanalytic model views all human behavior as a product of mental or psychological causes, though the cause may not be obvious to an outside observer or even to the person performing the behavior. Psychoanalytic influence on the modern perspective of abnormality has been enormous. Freudian concepts, such as Freudian slips and unconscious motivation, are so well known that they are now part of ordinary language and culture. However, the psychoanalytic model has been criticized because it is not verifiable, because it gives complex explanations when simple and straightforward ones are sufficient, because it cannot be proven wrong (lacks disconfirmability), and because it was based mainly on a relatively small number of upper-middle-class European patients and on Freud himself.
behavioral model. A behavioral model, or social-learning model, stemming from American psychologists such as John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990), emphasizes the role of the environment in developing abnormal behavior. According to this view, people acquire abnormal behavior in the same ways they acquire normal behavior, by learning from rewards and punishments they either experience directly or observe happening to someone else. Their perceptions, expectations, values, and role models further influence what they learn. In this view, a person with abnormal behavior has a different reinforcement history from that of others.
The behavioral model of abnormality stresses classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling. In classical conditioning, a child might hear a very loud sound immediately after entering the elevator. Thereafter, this child might develop a phobia of elevators and other enclosed spaces. In operant conditioning, a mother might give the child a cookie to keep him quiet. Soon, the child will notice that when he is noisy and bothersome, his mother gives him cookies and will develop a pattern of temper tantrums and other conduct disorders. In modeling, the person might notice that her mother is very afraid of spiders. Soon, she might develop a phobia of spiders and other small creatures.
The behavioral model advocates a careful investigation of the environmental conditions in which people display abnormal behavior. Behaviorists pay special attention to situational stimuli, or triggers, that elicit the abnormal behavior and to the typical consequences that follow the abnormal behavior. Behaviorists search for factors that reinforce or encourage the repetition of abnormal behaviors.
The behavioral model helped people realize how fears become associated with specific situations and the role that reinforcement plays in the origin and maintenance of inappropriate behaviors. However, this model ignores the evidence of genetic and biological factors playing a role in some disorders. Further, many people find it difficult to accept the view of human behavior as simply a set of responses to environmental stimuli. They argue that human beings have free will and the ability to choose their situation as well as how they will react.
humanistic model. A humanistic model, stemming from American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) and others, emphasizes that mental disorders arise when people are blocked in their efforts to grow and achieve self-actualization. According to this view, the self-concept is all-important and people have personal responsibility for their actions and the power to plan and choose their behaviors and feelings.
The humanistic model stresses that humans are basically good and have tremendous potential for personal growth. Left to their own devices, people will strive for self-actualization. However, people can run into roadblocks. Problems will arise if people are prevented from satisfying their basic needs or are forced to live up to the expectations of others. When this happens, people lose sight of their own goals and develop distorted self-perceptions.
They feel threatened and insecure and are unable to accept their own feelings and experiences. Losing touch with one's own feelings, goals, and perceptions forms the basis of abnormality. For example, parents may withhold their love and approval unless a young person conforms to their standards. In this case, the parents are offering conditional positive regard. This causes children to worry about such things as, "What if I do not do as well on the next test?", "What if I do not score in the next game?", and "What if I forget to clean my room?" In this example, the child may develop generalized anxiety disorder, which includes chronically high levels of anxiety. What the child needs for full development of maximum potential, according to the humanistic view, is unconditional positive regard.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) and other humanistic theorists stress that all human activity is normal, natural, rational, and sensible when viewed from the perspective of the person who is performing the behavior. According to this model, abnormality is a myth. All abnormal behavior would make sense if one could see the world through the eyes of the person who is behaving abnormally.
The humanistic model has made useful contributions to the practice of psychotherapy and to the study of consciousness. However, the humanistic model restricts attention to immediate conscious experience, failing to recognize the importance of unconscious motivation, reinforcement contingencies, future expectations, biological and genetic factors, and situational influences. Further, contrary to the optimistic self-actualizing view of people, much of human history has been marked by wars, violence, and individual repression.
cognitive model. A cognitive model, stemming from American psychologists Albert Ellis and Donald Meichenbaum, American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, and others, finds the roots of abnormal behavior in the way people think about and perceive the world. People who distort or misinterpret their experiences, the intentions of those around them, and the kind of world where they live are bound to act abnormally.
The cognitive model views human beings as thinking organisms that decide how to behave, so abnormal behavior is based on false assumptions or unrealistic situations. For example, Sally Smith might react to getting fired from work by actively searching for a new job. Sue Smith, in contrast, might react to getting fired from work by believing that this tragedy is the worst possible thing that could have happened, something that is really awful. Sue is more likely than Sally to become anxious, not because of the event that happened but because of what she believes about this event. In the cognitive model of abnormality, Sue's irrational thinking about the event (getting fired), not the event itself, caused her abnormal behavior.
Beck proposed that depressed people have negative schemas about themselves and life events. Their reasoning errors cause cognitive distortions. One cognitive distortion is drawing conclusions out of context, while ignoring other relevant information. Another cognitive distortion is over-
generalizing, drawing a general rule from one or just a few isolated incidents and applying the conclusion broadly to unrelated situations. A third cognitive distortion is dwelling on negative details, while ignoring positive aspects. A fourth cognitive distortion is thinking in an all-or-nothing way. People who think this way categorize experiences as either completely good or completely bad, rather than somewhere in between the two extremes. A fifth cognitive distortion is having automatic thoughts, negative ideas that emerge quickly and spontaneously, and seemingly without voluntary control.
The cognitive and behavioral models are sometimes linked and have stimulated a wealth of empirical knowledge. The cognitive model has been criticized for focusing too much on cognitive processes and not enough on root causes. Some also see it as too mechanistic.
The cognitive model proposes that maladaptive thinking causes psychological disorders. In contrast, the psychoanalytic model proposes that unconscious conflicts cause psychological disorders; the humanistic model proposes that blocking of full development causes psychological disorders; and the behavioral model proposes that inappropriate conditioning causes psychological disorders. These psychological models of abnormality stress the psychological variables that play a role in abnormal behavior.
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