500 words discussion ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

In this conversation, here are the two opposing views that you will need to consider to the best of your collective ability by the end of the week:

NOTE: While it is easy to take a position and argue why you believe that position to be true, I challenge you to engage in higher order thinking: Consider the opposing viewpoints and address the following questions:

A. What does each position believe? Why–what is the evidence being used for their arguments? Evaluate the quality of the evidence from a scholarly perspective.
B. Can you identify one or more logical points or pieces of information in each perspective even though you may not agree with that perspective completely?
C. What additional information would be helpful to know to evaluate each perspective more effectively?
D. What is a potential 3rd or 4th perspective that should be considered in this controversy? There are likely many other perspectives besides these two.

The 1st two perspectives we are considering:

1. Ausubel’s argument that mental illness is real.
2. Szasz’s argument that mental illness is a myth.


Abnormal Psychology

According to Getzfeld and Schwartz (2014), “psychopathology refers to the study of the causes and development of psychiatric disorders,” but researchers agree that it is difficult to come to a precise definition of abnormal behavior (ch. 1.1).

My definition of psychopathology based on my current understanding of the topic is that it is the study, diagnosis, and treatment of different disorders and mental illnesses. However, I believe that the definition of abnormal psychology is going to be different for every individual based on their upbringing, behavior, thoughts, emotions, and other factors. I think that there are many influences that help to determine what defines abnormal psychology, such as cognitive ability, behavior, genetics, family dynamics, neurobiology, emotions, thoughts, and processes such as modeling, schema development, or associative learning. I think it is also important to keep in mind that what one perceives as abnormal, another might perceive as normal.

I feel that there are a few early theories which go along with my definition. One major theoretical historical perspective that relates to my definition and ideas about what defines abnormal psychology is Cognitive-Behaviorism of the 1950s-1970s, specifically Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. According to Bandura, we learn by observing and copying the behaviors of others, which he termed as modeling (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2014). Another major theory that I feel influenced my thoughts is Beck’s cognitive perspective theory, which explains that our development of depression starts from the tendency to develop negative schemas about the world and the self during childhood and adolescence (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2014). A third theoretical perspective that I feel matches part of my definition is the Diathesis-Stress Model, which explains that both biology and environmental stressors influence our behavior by turning genes on or off (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2014). Whether or not we have a genetic predisposition to having a certain disorder is not the problem entirely; the way in which the environment affects us determines if the diathesis is turned on or off and if we become more or less likely to experience and express genetic disorders.

Szasz versus Ausubel

In 1960, Thomas Szasz developed the notion that there is no such thing as mental illness as it is not a thing, but rather a theoretical concept. He compared the theory of mental illness to ideas such as witchcraft, deities, and microorganisms which have been thought of as the causes of a number of events throughout history. Szasz was quick to differentiate between diseases of the brain and disorders of the mind, explaining that diseases of the brain cannot accurately define all behavior and thinking. He believed that the mind could not be sick as the brain or other parts of the body could be physiologically sick. He explained that beliefs, behaviors, and emotions could not be recognized as symptoms for diseases of the central nervous system. According to Szasz, we organize our knowledge and thoughts in a way that we correspond mental symptoms with physical ones. He goes on to explain that “the concept of illness, whether bodily or mental, implies deviation from some clearly defined norm,” and that it is either the individual or other people around the individual who decide that there has been a deviation (Szasz, 1960, pg. 114, col. 2, para. 2). Szasz notes that people believe that good mental health is the absence of mental illness, and that making the right choices and proper conduct in one’s life secures mental health. However, he argues that it is really the other way around; it is the making of good choices and proper conduct that other people regard as good mental health. (Szasz, 1960)

David Ausubel contradicted Szasz’s position about mental illness in 1961, and explained that personality disorder is a disease. Ausubel argued that although diseases of the brain cannot define personality disorder, brain pathology can at least explain some psychological disorders due to neurological damage, injury, or other impairments. He also explained that symptoms do not have to be entirely physical to explain a disease of the body, or entirely mental to explain a disease of the mind; rather the evaluation of all symptoms both physical and mental depends on several factors such as subjective judgement, emotions, societal/cultural norms, and the involvement of the observer. According to Ausubel, abnormal behavior is influenced by both the mind and the body, and to deem mental illness as merely a mythical fragment of guilt or lack of moral judgement constructed by social norms would be foolish. Ausubel explains that immoral behavior and mental illness can be distinguished from one another, and to lump the two together and invalidate mental illness as a disease would be just as dangerous as medical doctors stepping away from clinical medicine. (Ausubel, 1961)

Although I do not agree with either position completely, there are some points from each that I can agree with. I agree with Szasz that diseases of the brain cannot accurately explain all disorders of the mind, as only the body can be physically sick, and not the mind. Although the mind cannot be physically sick, I do not agree with Szasz that mental illness is a myth. Although symptoms may not always be physical, the symptoms are still there, which I feel is the direction that Ausubel was moving towards. I agree with Ausubel that both physical and mental symptoms should be considered in the context of all other factors, both internal and external. Some additional information that I feel would be helpful in evaluating each perspective more effectively would be to research other theorists who adopted the ideas of Szasz and Ausubel and offered their own perspectives on the paradigm.

A third perspective can be offered by Sigmund Freud, who believed that adult human behavior was controlled by the psyche, which was made up of the id, ego, and superego. He believed that the id is the unconscious part of our personality that is present at birth and cradles our desires, while controlling our innate drives such as sex and aggression. The superego deals with morals, guilt, and understanding right from wrong based on social and cultural norms, and is partially a conscious part of the mind. Finally, the ego mediates conflict between the id and superego, controlled in part by the conscious thoughts coming from within the superego. Freud believed that if the three areas of the psyche were not in balance, then we would repress ideas, impulses, and memories from reaching the fully conscious part of the mind. Freud believed that if someone was unable to deal with these ideas or if they were to come to consciousness, the result would be neurosis, anxiety, and depression which could manifest as abnormal behavior. (Lecci, 2015; Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2014)

I cannot agree with most of Freud’s work, because I believe he placed too much emphasis on sexual drive and aggression for a number of his theories within the psychodynamic/psychoanalytic model of psychology. However, I can partially agree with the notion that unconscious processes of the mind do play a role in our behavior, and I do agree that we repress issues as a self-defense mechanism. Although, I do not believe that not being able to deal with repressed ideas would necessarily result in neurosis, anxiety, or depression, and I doubt that it can accurately define abnormal behavior.


Ausubel, D. P. (1961). Personality disorder is disease. American Psychologist, 16(2), 69-74. doi:10.1037/h0042627

Getzfeld, Andrew R. & Shwartz, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology: DSM-5. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education Inc. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Lecci, L. (2015). Personality. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Szasz, Thomas S. (1960). The Myth of Mental Illness. American Psychologist, 15, 113-118. doi:10.1037/h0046535. Retrieved from http://homepage.westmont.edu/bsmith/documents/Szasz.pdf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.