PSYCH101 Study Guide

Unit 10: Psychopathology

10a. Define the subfield of psychopathology

  • What is psychopathology?
  • What do clinical psychologists do?

The field of psychopathology is concerned with studying and treating psychological disorders. Psychological disorders are conditions that have occurred for several weeks, meet diagnostic symptoms, and negatively impact a patient's life. There are a number of examples of psychological disorders: mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders including phobias and panic disorders, as well as psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Clinical psychologists who specialize in psychopathology see patients to diagnose psychological disorders and develop treatment plans for them. Treatment for psychological disorders is varied and depends on the patient and his situation. It may include talk therapy, medication, or a combination. Treatment may occur in a therapist's office or in a hospital, community mental health center, or another location.

To review, see section 15.1 of the textbook.


10b. Define psychological disorders and identify perspectives on psychological disorders

  • What does the harmful dysfunction model mean? How does it relate to the APA definition of psychological disorders?
  • What are differences and similarities between the DSM and ICD?
  • What is the diathesis-stress model?

Some people suggest that psychological disorders are harmful dysfunctions, with an emphasis on "harmful". Since cultural variations define dysfunctions differently for different groups of people, what makes something a true psychological disorder is when that dysfunction becomes harmful to the patient. The APA draws on this definition to outline a definition for psychological disorders.

The APA defines psychological disorders as conditions in which there are significant disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Moreover, these disturbances reflect a biological, psychological, or developmental dysfunction which leads to significant stress in a patient's life. Further, these disturbances are not culturally appropriate.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) are reference manuals psychologists can use to diagnose psychological disorders. The DSM is published by the APA and thus more prevalent in America while the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes the ICD. The ICD is more widely used elsewhere.

There are varying perspectives of explaining psychological disorders. Historically, people assumed that supernatural causes were to blame for the development of psychological disorders. The biological perspective posits that genes and biological factors (e.g., brain abnormalities, chemical imbalances) cause psychological disorders. The diathesis-stress model of psychological disorders suggests that biological and psychosocial factors predict the occurence of a psychological disorder suggesting that some people may be predisposed to experience a disorder in their life.

To review, see sections 15.2 and 15.3 of the textbook.


10c. Understand how psychological disorders are classified and describe commonly diagnosed psychological disorders and their symptoms, including anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD, mood disorders, schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, and personality disorders

  • What types of symptoms might a person with anxiety disorder experience? How is a panic disorder different from an anxiety disorder?
  • How are major depressive and manic disorders part of bipolar disorder? What is the biological basis for these mood disorders?
  • What characterizes a schizotypal personality?

Clinical psychologists diagnose psychological disorders using the DSM or ICD. These reference manuals contain checklists for symptoms to meet diagnostic criteria. Clinical psychologists evaluate this by interviewing patients. They may also use diagnostic tests specific for each condition.

A person suffering from anxiety disorder might experience increased heartbeat when confronted with the stimulus of which he's afraid as well as panic attacks when thinking about it. Patients diagnosed with panic disorders experience recurring panic attacks for at least one month and worry about the attack as well as its consequences.

Patients with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) report intrusive thoughts and urges (obsessions) and feel forced to engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions). For example, a patient may report thoughts about remaining clean or feeling dirty and engage in excessive hand-washing and showering.

Patients diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event which then result in stressful responses, such as flashback memories, during which the person experiences the traumatic event over and over.

Mood disorders include states of sadness and euphoria. Patients diagnosed with depressive disorders may report prolonged states of sadness, feelings of despair, and a general lack in interest. Some may even have suicidal ideations. Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder experience at least one manic episode in addition to struggling with episodes of depression. There is some biological evidence for mood disorders, specially related to an imbalance of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are marked by a complete breakdown in terms of thoughts, perception, emotion, and behavior. Patients with schizophrenia experience delusions (feelings of grandiosity like being king of the world) and demonstrate disorganized thinking (absence of logic in thought or making connections), disorganized behaviors (wearing inappropriate clothing e.g., heavy winter clothes in summer heat), and disorganized emotional responses for example a lack of empathy.

Patients with personality disorders exhibit consistent personality traits that are very different from cultural expectations and variations. These are usually evident in patients' interactions with others. For example, a person with a schizotypal personality displays various strange eccentricities in thought, perception, emotion, speech, and behavior. S/he might be overly suspicious or paranoid with idiosyncratic speech (such as rambling) and exhibit discomfort in social situations. A schizotypal person generally has few friends and often experiences extreme social anxiety.

To review, see sections 15.415.7, and 15.10 of the textbook.


10d. Understand and differentiate among types of current psychological therapies, including psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, and biomedical therapy

  • How could a behavioral therapist work with a patient suffering from anxiety disorder?
  • What happens during a psychoanalytic therapy sessions?
  • Which school of psychology does exposure therapy draw upon? For what types of psychological disorders is it most useful?

Clinical psychologists are trained not only in diagnosing psychological disorders but also in providing treatment for them. Treatment varies and depends on the patient, diagnosis, and context.

Within psychological treatment, there are a number of perspectives or specializations that psychologists can have. For example, a behavioral therapist might help a patient unlearn negatively paired association with the anxiety-inducing stimulus through operant or classical conditioning techniques.

Patients undergoing psychoanalytic therapy might be ask to free associate to uncover unconscious ideas or concepts. Patients might also be asked to discuss their dreams.

Exposure therapy draws upon behaviorism principles and is best suited to treat patients experiencing anxieties and phobias.

To review, see section 16.2 of the textbook.


Unit 7 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that might help you with the review items above and some terms you should be familiar with to be successful in completing the final exam for the course.

Try to think of the reason why each term is included.

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorder
  • Diagnosis
  • Etiology
  • Mania
  • obsessive -compulsive disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Humanistic therapy
  • Biomedical therapy