Broadly speaking, abnormal psychology can be described as an attempt to describe, classify and treat disorders and behaviors that are outside the norms of human experience. Abnormal psychology concerns itself with behavior that produces suffering in those afflicted, is maladaptive, deviant or predictable (Butcher, J. N., Mineka, S, & Hooley, J. M., 2010). Behavior that violates societal norms has always existed but the ways humans have explained these behaviors has changed.
Early explanations for abnormal behavior often focused on the supernatural. Malignant spirits and demons might be blamed for evil behavior, whereas a deity or benevolent spirit might be the cause of behavior that seemed to be holy or righteous. Many Greek and Roman philosophers rejected this view but it returned in Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. In areas where Roman learning survived a more scientific understanding of mental illness persisted. As scientific learning returned to Europe so did a more reasoned understanding that abnormal behavior was not due to witches or possession by malevolent spirits. However, this did not always lead to more humane care of those afflicted.
It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that attitudes began changing about asylums and warehousing mental patients. Even bigger changes marked the beginning and end of the twentieth century, first as more effective treatment became the norm and then as the move to deinstitutionalize mental patients brought them out of asylums and into society.
Abnormal Psychology as a Scientific Discipline
The development of abnormal psychology as a scientific discipline can be traced to early pioneers such as Griesinger and von Haller who viewed mental illness as originating with biological brain malfunctions. In contrast Sigmund Freud developed his theory of mental illness that centered on the unconscious. Through decades of observations he theorized...