Individual Differences and Psychopathologies

1. Definitions of abnormality

a) Deviation from Social Norms

b) Deviation from Ideal Mental Health

c) Failure to function adequately

2. Models of abnormality

a) The Medical/Biological Model

b) The Psychodynamic Model

c) The Behavioural Model

d) The Cognitive Model

3. Treatments

Medical treatments and non-medical treatments.

Psychopathologies Introduction

Models of Abnormality


According to this criteria society is governed by rules and expected standards of behaviour without which it would be difficult for society to function. These moral standards become accepted as the established norms of behaviour and if anyone violates these accepted standards of behaviour they are regarded as abnormal or deviant. Many people who are labelled as clinically abnormal do behave in ways which may be regarded as socially deviant and upsetting for others, but on the other hand many sufferers do not exhibit behaviour which departs from accepted social norms.

Two historical differences may be used to illustrate the idea that it is difficult to rigidly define abnormality and that standards of what is normal or abnormal change over time.

  • Until as recently as the early years of the twentieth century, unmarried women in the UK who became pregnant were sometimes interned in mental institutions and in many cases the babies were taken away for adoption. Some of these women were in their early teens when they became pregnant and remained in mental institutions for the rest of their lives.
  • The second example is that of homosexuality, long regarded as a deviation from social norms In the UK homosexual acts were regarded as criminal offences even among consenting adults, until the 1960s and The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973.

In Britain it has been suggested that there is a culture bias in mental health because diagnostic statistics for mental disorders show significant differences between ethnic or cultural groups. For instance, Cochrane (1977) reported that Black (African-Caribbean) immigrants are between two to seven times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than whites.  Given that this difference does appear in other parts of the world it is very difficult to explain. It has been alleged that British psychiatry is inherently and institutionally racist.

Evaluation of the Deviation from Social Norms Approach

Much of our behaviour is context-specific and out of context it may seem bizarre. At a practical, everyday level, deviation from social norms can be a useful way to identify mental problems. We learn what to expect from individuals on a day to day basis and if their behaviour deviates drastically from this we may become alarmed. Indeed this is often a vital first step in the diagnostic and treatment process.



Problems with the deviation from social norms approach.


  • Social norms are relative not absolute and so our conception of what may be regarded as abnormal keeps shifting over time and from place to place.


  • Sub cultural variations are equally important. What may be seen as deviant by one group in society may be seen as normal by the practising group. This is especially so of societies characterised by multi-culturalism.


  • Some abnormalities have a strong biological aetiology. The social norms of the society are therefore of little relevance.


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