Anxiety disorders are conditions which are characterised by an excessive or unrealistic amount of anxiety and/or fear. Often, phobias are a form of anxiety disorder which classically demonstrates an excessive amount of fears for spiders, the dark, clowns or indeed, anything. Phobias are usually classified as being either a social or a specific phobia – the latter being a fear of specific things or events, and the former being a fear of social situations that could pertain to a negative outcome. Sometimes, the condition is characterised by behaviours which can be considered to be obsessive such was repeatedly washing your hands and often, anxiety disorders induce panic attacks in their sufferers. Panic attacks are a physical manifestation of anxiety that often feature increased heart rate, rapid breathing and often sweating and a general feeling of being ‘out of control’ (Pearson Learning Solutions).
A key way of treating an anxiety disorder is psychodynamic therapy which “seeks to bring unresolved past conflicts and unacceptable impulses from the unconscious into the conscious, where patients may deal with the problems more effectively.” (Feldman, 2010, p430). This works particularly well for anxiety disorder patients because frequently, the root cause of their anxiety or fear has been buried or ‘repressed’ by the mind, meaning that they cannot conquer their fear because they cannot face its antagonist head on. This approach is derived from Freud’s theory that facing a fear directly can allow the patient to overcome their fear. Another similar approach is systematic desensitization which gradually introduces the object of fears alongside relaxation techniques to encourage a new association that induces a feeling of calmness in the patient, as opposed to the original anxiety (Feldman, 2010, p434).
Common psychological disorders include those classified as either anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders or mood disorders. As a brief, general definition, they are best described as follows: anxiety disorders are conditions where anxiety begins to infringe on the day to day life of the individual, causing their actions and decisions to be affected by it; somatoform disorders are psychological conditions which manifest themselves through physical symptoms such as believing that they are sick when they are not; mood disorders are characterised by extreme emotions of depression and euphoria which cause the individual to experience difficulty in functioning in the ‘normal’ fashion (Feldman, 2010, p394). As a general idea, all three types of psychological disorder stop being ‘normal’ human behaviour when the individual’s behaviour begins to infringe on their ability to live their life without regard for such fears or thoughts.
An example of an anxiety disorder is the experience of panic attacks which produce physical symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate and breathing as well as sweating and a feeling of nausea. Another example is a phobia which tends to be a fear of a particular thing or a social situation such a night out with a work crowd which the individual feels could lead to negative consequences. Examples of somatoform disorders include Hypochondriasis and conversion disorder: the former is where the individual worries constantly about germs and becoming sick and will often refuse to interact as normal when in public – an aversion to shaking hands, for example; the latter refers to cases where a patient has developed an actual physical ailment such as blindness but there is not physical explanation for it and it has developed as a result of a psychological condition. Mood disorders are categorised into ‘dysthymia’ which is a continued sense of deep and intense sadness, or cyclothymia which is where the individual’s mood veers from an extreme low to an extreme high (Pearson Learning Solutions).
Nobody has a right to say what is and isn’t ‘normal’ however, some behaviours can be classified as being abnormal based on a variety of definitions. Two of these involve the ideas of when behaviour becomes deviated from the average or when it becomes deviated from the ideal for that individual. When behaviour becomes deviated from the average, it means that it is classified as being something which does not happen frequently or commonly, statistically, in society. The issue with this definition is the inability to consider environmental factors such as the individual’s intelligence or background (Feldman, 2010, p388). When behaviour becomes deviated from the ideal, it means that the behaviour as become different from what is ‘socially acceptable’ or ‘expected’ and as such, is causing the individual problems. The main issue with this definition of abnormal behaviour is that there are very few universally agreed social norms, meaning that it is quite an ambiguous line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ (Feldman, 2010, p389).
The psychoanalytical perspective on what is abnormal stems from conflicts in childhood with a particular focus on aggression and sex, which cause issues for the individual later in life (Feldman, 2010, p391). However, rather than examining the cause of behaviour, the behavioural perspective instead chooses to view the behaviour itself as the problem – preferring instead, to examine why the individual has learned the abnormal behaviour (Feldman, 2010, p391). The cognitive perspective takes another tact altogether by examining the individual’s thoughts as being the cause of their abnormal behaviour – choosing to educate the individual to think differently and ‘re-wire’ their mind, as it were Feldman, 2010, p391-392). The major differences between these three perspectives is their approach from varying angles: environmental, behavioural and thought processes – each attempts to understand the behaviour but through asking ‘why’ or ‘how’ rather than ‘what.’
Psychological disorders can generally be classified as being one of six classifications: anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, dissociative disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders (Pearson Learning Solutions).
Personality disorders are generally defined as being conditions which cause very “little personal distress but that lead to an inability to function as a normal member of society.” (Feldman, 2010, p394). Treatment for such conditions can often be difficult because they are hard to diagnose in the first place due to the individual having very little concept of their behaviour as being anything other than normal – typically, these sorts of conditions do not cause the individual any personal problems. These types of conditions are usually treated through the use of major units devoted to the task which involve a year or two (or sometimes more) of intensive therapy – often in groups, with the intention of encouraging the individual to learn how their behaviour is affecting those around them. Alternatively, a behavioural approach encourages the individual to be constantly faced with an environment in which he struggles to function healthily whilst encouraging ‘normal’ behaviour through a series of praise, sympathy and rewards (Hill, 2007).
Dr Hill, O. (2007). Personality disorder and its treatment. Retrieved from http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/personalitydis.pdf
Feldman, R. (2010). Psychology and your life. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Pearson Learning Solutions. (n.d.). Mental Disorders – Causes, Nature, and Treatment. Retrieved from http://media.pearsoncmg.com/pcp/pcp_94123_psych_axia/lesson_11/interactive/index1.htm