Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal behavior, thoughts, and emotions, often referred to as psychological disorders or mental illness. It is the branch of psychology that studies unusual patterns of behavior, emotion, and thought that may be interpreted as mental disorders. Although many behaviors are abnormal, this branch of psychology usually deals with behavior in a clinical setting.
Abnormal psychology explores the causes, symptoms, and treatments of these disorders, as well as the impact they have on individuals, families, and society. Psychological disorders are conditions that cause distress, impairment in functioning, and/or deviance from social norms. Examples of common psychological disorders include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. Abnormal psychology seeks to understand the biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of these disorders.
Treatment for psychological disorders may involve psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Abnormal psychology also explores the efficacy of different treatments and the barriers to accessing them. There is a long history of attempts to understand and control behavior that is deemed abnormal or deviant (statistically, functionally, morally, or in some other way), and the approach taken is often culturally variable. The field of abnormal psychology identifies multiple causes for different conditions, employing diverse theories from the general field of psychology and elsewhere, and much still hinges on what exactly is meant by “abnormal”.
It is important to note that while abnormal psychology uses the term “abnormal” to describe psychological disorders, it does not imply that individuals with these disorders are inherently “bad” or “defective.” Rather, abnormal psychology seeks to understand and help individuals who are struggling with mental health issues.
Historically, there has been a distinction between psychological and biological explanations, reflecting a philosophical dualism regarding the mind-body problem. There have also been various approaches to classifying mental disorders. Subnormal, supernormal, and paranormal are the three categories of abnormal.
Abnormal psychology is concerned with the patterns of emotion, thought, and behavior that can indicate a mental health problem. Rather than distinguishing between normal and abnormal, psychologists in this field focus on the level of distress that behaviors, thoughts, or emotions may cause. An “abnormal” behavior is one that causes problems in a person’s life or is disruptive to other people. In such cases, the behavior may necessitate some form of mental health intervention.