Introduction to Psychological Disorders

What you’ll learn to do: define psychological disorders and explain how they are classified

Black and white photograph of a woman who is hunched over with her hair covering her face and grabbing the back of her hands with her head, depicting anguish.

Psychological disorders are conditions characterized by abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Although challenging, it is essential for psychologists and mental health professionals to agree on what experiences and actions constitute the presence of a psychological disorder. Inner experiences and behaviors that are atypical or violate social norms could signify the presence of a disorder; however, each of these criteria alone is inadequate. It is generally accepted that a psychological disorder is defined by significant disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; these disturbances must reflect some kind of dysfunction (biological, psychological, or developmental), must cause significant impairment in one’s life, and must not reflect culturally expected reactions to certain life events.

In this section, you’ll learn about how disorders are defined, and also how they are diagnosed and classified. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is essentially a classification manual that clinicians can use to read about the criteria, prevalence, risk factors, and details about over 200 disorders.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe how psychological disorders are defined, as well as the inherent difficulties in doing so
  • Describe the basic features of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and how it is used to classify disorders
  • Discuss historical and supernatural perspectives as well as modern and biological perspectives on the origin of psychological disorders
  • Describe the diathesis-stress model and its importance to the study of psychopathology
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