Psychological Explanations Of Abnormal Psychology

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In this essay, I will be evaluating the psychological explanations of abnormality in reference to Claire’s case study. In particular the behaviourist, psychodynamic and cognitive perspectives.


Claire’s behaviour could be defined as ‘abnormal behaviour’, as she has lost interest in spending time with her friends and is now spending more time at home researching eating disorders and depression. Claire’s parents are divorced and she lives with her mother.

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Her mother is bulimic and often makes herself sick, which Claire has witnessed. Claire has a better relationship with her father as she doesn’t get on with her mother as they argue a great deal. She misses her father as she doesn’t see him as often as she would like when she does see him it’s for the odd weekend at his house.

Firstly, the behaviourist perspective. Behaviourism insists that the influence of the environment with shaping how an individual behaves, that depression is situational, caused by the environment. They believe that actions are set on life experiences ‘rather than by underlying pathology’ of unconscious forces and focus on classical conditioning, social learning and operant conditioning theories. (Gross2010)

Lewinsohn (1974) operant conditioning; that depression can be caused by a negative environment and that various events such as a father leaving the family home. And depressed behaviour from other people, for example, Claire’s mother’s behaviour. ‘They get locked into a negative downward spiral’. (

Treatment, Behavioural Activation (BA) is a treatment for depression through behavioural therapy and is developed from a behavioural model, that depression is a consequence of the lack of positive reinforcement. The aim of BA to treat depression by helping patients to ‘learn to cope’ with negativity and help to develop a more positive perception. (

Works well if there is a definite cause of depression. However, in some cases of depression, it is unknown to the person why they would be feeling so low, that there is no underlying event that has triggered the depression. (

Secondly psychodynamic’s perspective. Focus on psychological issues are a result caused by unsolved emotional struggles. Their main assumptions include Freud’s theory that abnormality stems from the psychological cause and not the physical and that attitudes, emotions and behaviour are influenced by early childhood experiences.

Sandler & Joffe (1965) believe that depression is ‘developed from the feeling of helplessness’ from uncontrollable traumas and events such as Claire’s helplessness toward her mother’s bulimia and witnessing her mother making herself sick. (sandler&joffe1965)

Psychodynamic treatment, a talking therapy, based on the patient’s relationships in their every day lives. The aim of talking therapy is so that the patient can talk openly about anything such as dreams, current issues and fear. Psychodynamic psychotherapy helps to see patterns in behaviour, inner struggles and defences. The aim is to bring inner struggles to light so that feelings and behaviour improve. (

Psychoanalytical theories such as, ‘narcissistic deprivation, oral personality, loss of self-esteem and object loss’ influenced Beck’s (1983) ‘Model of Depression’. ‘psychoanalytic theories are difficult to be scientifically tested, the evidence of its success is reliant on ‘personal accounts’ and can disregard other reasons for depression.

Thirdly Cognitive perspective assumes that a person’s thoughts are responsible for their behaviour and focus on the internal thought process and how reasoning and perceptions contribute to mental health disorders. ‘The situation is not the cause of depression, but the perception of the situation’. (Beck1967)

Beck’s (1967) theory Beck believed that the reaction to particular thoughts contributes to abnormality. As there are situations in life comforting and discouraging thoughts come to mind, Beck called them ‘automatic thoughts’, that persistent negative thoughts can cause depression. In reference to Claire’s behaviour regularly researching bulimia and depression strengthening the negativity for her and her mother’s relationship.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used for extensive ranges of mental health and is established on the idea that thoughts (cognition), feelings (emotion) and behaviour interact that thoughts attribute to feelings and behaviour. CBT is a talking therapy to ‘develop different ways of behaving and thinking to reduce psychological distress’. The clients are encouraged to keep a diary of feelings and thoughts and are given tasks to complete to challenge their irrational beliefs. (

Cognitive therapy has strong factual evidence of its success. Doesn’t recognise that abnormal conditions which are usually seen in depression may be the effect rather than the explanation of depression. (

Deviation from social norms

Is one definition of abnormality and regards behaviour as abnormal if a culture of society views it as undesirable or unacceptable. The characteristics of some behaviour that is outside of what is considered ‘social norms’, which vary across different cultures in society.

However, the definition of social norms is questionable as behaviour that was viewed as abnormal can change so that it becomes acceptable. For example, in the 1950s pregnant unmarried women were sent away to have their babies as it was viewed as abnormal as it broke social norms. However, as the example shows that society changed the characteristic, not the individual. (

References and Bibliography

  3. ISBN: 978-1-4093-7055-0
  4. Sandler.J, and Joffe, W.G. (1965). Notes on childhood depression. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 45, 66-96.


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