Outline and Evaluate the Biological, Psychodynamic and Cognitive Explanations of Abnormality

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Outline and Evaluate the Biological, Psychodynamic and Cognitive Explanations of Abnormality

The models of abnormality are theories that attempt to explain the cause of a psychological disturbance. Each model has a contrasting view which will mould further research and treatment approaches accordingly. All the models relate to the brain; however some psychologists believe that a disorder must originate from psychological causes, whilst others believe the disorder to be based on neuroanatomy and biochemicals (biological causes). Three of these main explanations are the biological, psychodynamic and cognitive approaches; each with its own treatment solutions, and strengths and limitations.

The biological model is a theory most widely supported by medically trained psychiatrists. The belief is that a psychological disorder must stem from the biology of the brain; either the neuroanatomy (the anatomical organization of the nervous system) or the biochemistry (the chemical processes of the brain). In this way the disorder is treated like any other physical illness. For example, a patient presenting with severe chest pains and shortness of breath would be classified as having a cardiovascular problem, the underlying cause of the pains would be a blockage in the coronary artery preventing a sufficient oxygen supply to the heart, the treatment would be a coronary bypass, and the method of prevention for the future would be reducing cholesterol intake (along with many other methods of prevention).

The biological model uses this same approach in a diagnosis; first the disorder is classified, then the underlying cause is found, next an appropriate treatment is developed, and finally methods of prevention are produced.

        There are considered to be four causal factors of a psychological disorder in the biological approach. These are brain damage, infection, biochemistry and genes. An abnormality may be due to just one of these factors, or a combination.

        Brain damage is where the structure of the brain has been permanently altered, resulting in mental deterioration. The damage may be due to trauma or disease, but once the deterioration has started it cannot be reversed or stopped. A psychological disorder which is an example of this would be Alzheimer’s disease.

        Infection is where a pathogen (harmful bacteria or viruses), which would normally cause a physical illness such as influenza, transmit a mental illness by having adverse affects on the brain as well as the rest of the body. In the nineteenth century Syphilis was known to have such effects; the infection would cause decline in the brain and would lead to symptoms of a mental illness (referred to as ‘general paresis’). Such symptoms were delusions of grandeur (believing oneself to be more powerful and influential than in reality), delusions of persecution (paranoia, believing that others are plotting against you) and irrational behaviour (now known as ‘psychosis’). These psychiatric effects are now prevented by treating Syphilis with antibiotics.

        Biochemistry is involved in the balance of essential chemicals in the brain, and the way in which neurotransmitters work. Hormones (a secreted substance stimulating a target organ of the body) may also have an effect on the brain and the presence of a psychological disorder. It is believed that levels of hormones and neurotransmitters that are either too high or too low may be a factor in the cause of an abnormality. Recent studies have shown that patients suffering from Bipolar disorder or Anorexia Nervosa often have lower levels than normal of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, whereas patients suffering from Schizophrenia often have higher levels than normal of the neurotransmitter Dopamine. It has also been discovered that patients with depression have a higher level than normal of the hormone Cortisol. It is unknown why there are such chemical imbalances; however they are thought to have stemmed from infections, life stress or genetic factors.

        Genes as a causal factor of a psychological abnormality suggest that a natural susceptibility to certain mental illnesses can be inherited from older generations within the family. This has been seen with patients suffering from Schizophrenia; research has found that if a person has Schizophrenia there is a 10% chance that their offspring will have the disorder as well; compared to the 1% chance the rest of the population have.

In some families there is a regular occurrence of certain disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa, where it is believed that a mother who has suffered with the illness is more likely to have a child who will also suffer with the illness than a family with no history of the disorder. However, it is possible that environment factors, not genetic factors, will be the cause of a psychological disorder. If generations of the family stick to the same principle traditions in child rearing and experience similar environments it may be the culture or the environment that effect the psychological well-being of a person, not the inherited genes.

        As this is the biological model the treatments also follow a medical approach. As with physical illnesses the main treatments are drug therapy, surgery or electro-convulsive therapy (although ECT is less likely to be found when treating an illness non-related to the brain).

        Drug therapy works on the basis that the problem stems from a chemical imbalance, and so aims to correct this. Tranquillizers may be used to alleviate anxiety, antidepressants to treat depressive disorders, and very strong tranquillizers for psychotic disorders. These drugs will help by lessening the symptoms of the psychological abnormality in a majority of cases; however they are not successful for everyone. Like with any prescribed drugs there is a chance of addiction and of an allergic reaction or intolerance; this may lead to side-effects worse than the original symptoms. This improvement, in the way the symptoms disappear, is seen to be in support of the medical theory- suggesting that a chemical imbalance is the cause of the problem. However, although the symptoms appear to leave whilst a patient is on a course of medication this may simply be showing that the symptoms are alleviated but the underlying problem remains- the chemical imbalance is caused by the mental disturbance, the mental disturbance is not caused by the chemical imbalance.

        Psychosurgery is considered to be the most extreme form of therapy and is left as a last resort in treatment rather than being immediately recommended. This is because the therapy involves removing the section of dysfunctional brain tissue, and the process cannot be reversed. It is believed that by removing the brain tissue that is causing the psychological abnormality the symptoms and problems will disappear and will not reoccur.

        Although medical professionals do not understand why electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) works it has been seen to have a high rate of success in treating psychiatric patients. A high current is passed through the patient’s brain for a 0.5 second period whilst they are under anaesthetic, this will induce a convulsion that lasts for one minute. It is believed that ECT may increase the availability of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Patients suffering from severe depression may benefit from this therapy, with previous results showing that ECT may alleviate the condition for up to a year. This is a good short term treatment; however 60% of patients will become depressed again within the year, and would need additional therapy.

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        The biological model can be criticised both positively and negatively. One of its main strength is that a medical diagnosis of mental illness can reduce the factor of blame that would usually be placed on the family and the sufferer. As a medical condition there is not one person responsible for the illness. This is helpful and regarded as more human because there are no feelings of guilt linked to the diagnosis.

However, with the suggestion of genetics as a causal factor, for some people this may reintroduce a feeling of guilt and anxiety. There is the guilt from ...

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