Abnormal Psychology is one of the most common psychology courses on many campuses. It describes the most serious forms of mental disorders. They are fascinating in themselves, but they also have personal relevance to many students. About 1 in 3 American families has at least one family member who has required help for a mental or behavioral disorder. Often a student finds information in an Abnormal Psychology course that sheds light on something the student observed while growing up.
Abnormal psychology also shows us a lot about the nature of human mental life by showing the ways it can go wrong. For example, the psychoses—major breaks from reality—make it clear that most of us maintain a strong reality orientation. We take it for granted, but when somebody "loses it" there is a real crisis. Similarly, the anxiety disorders show what happens when the alarm circuits in the brain go off too easily. The mood disorders shed light on malfunctions of the hedonic control system. The somatoform disorders highlight mind/body interactions. The more we understand about what makes these systems go wrong, the better we understand normal human behavior.
How this chapter is organized
We will cover several major categories from DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Fourth Edition. Whatever one might think of the DSM series (and many psychologists have major or minor complaints about it) the DSM classification is standard. Every clinical or counseling psychologist must be acquainted with it.
First, however, we examine the inevitable question: What is abnormal behavior, and how should it be handled by society and by government? We will give special attention to a policy decision which has affected every major city in America: the wholesale release from mental hospitals of mental patients, many of whom end up as homeless and living on the streets.
Next we review the major disorders seen by clinical psychologists as well as psychiatrists: the psychoses, especially schizophrenia, the mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders such as panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other categories from DSM-IV. DSM-IV includes far more than can be covered in any chapter of an introductory psychology textbook. Therefore many psychological disorders are mentioned in other chapters rather than this one. See the section below ("Related topics in other chapters") for a list of disorders not covered in this chapter.
The most common problems, in psychological clinics, are the personality disorders. We discuss all eleven of them that are mentioned in DSM-IV, with special attention to the antisocial personality disorder.
The last section deals with developmental disorders. We take a look at Down Syndrome -by far the most common chromosomal disorder-and autism, another genetically based disorder with some very peculiar characteristics. Then we move on to hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder, the most common cause of parents seeking psychological help for children. Finally we consider learning disorders, with special attention to dyslexia, which is relatively common even among college students.
Related topics in other chapters
Syndromes caused by brain damage are discussed in the section on Neuropsychology in Chapter 2. Sleep disorders are in Chapter 3 (States of Consciousness). Amnesia is discussed in Chapter 6 (Memory). The Dissociative Identity Disorder ("multiple personality") is in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories). Treatment of phobias with systematic desensitization is in the chapter on Therapies (Chapter 13). Addiction and stress-related disorders and the behavioral treatment of chronic pain are all discussed in Chapter 14 (Frontiers of Psychology). Sexual disorders are in Chapter 16 (Sex, Friendship, and Love).