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What Is Abnormal Psychology?

Abnormal psychology is the study of brain dysfunctions that cause irregular behaviors, like those exhibited by patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. If you choose to study abnormal psychology, you'll use scientific methods to investigate the causes of these abnormalities. Read on to learn more about this field.

The Field of Abnormal Psychology

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), professionals in the field of abnormal psychology study behaviors that impair a patient's ability to function in daily life. Through the use of personality and intelligence tests, interviews, patient observations and written case studies, researchers and psychologists identify and treat psychological abnormalities, such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), some researchers believe that abnormalities can be caused by environmental factors, such as the loss of a family member. Other researchers believe that psychological abnormalities are caused by genetic or neurochemical factors. If you subscribe to this school of thought, you might argue that chemical deficiencies in the brain cause depression. Some researchers also hypothesize that psychological abnormalities like schizophrenia are transmitted genetically.

Many researchers believe that abnormalities are caused by some combination of biological and environmental factors, according to the NIMH. For instance, some psychologists argue that a person may by genetically predisposed to develop a certain disorder, but the disorder may only appear if that person is also subjected to a specific environmental trigger, like physical deprivation or emotional stress.

Important Facts About Psychologists

Job Growth (2016-2026) 14% (for all clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)*
Median Salary (2018) $76,990 (for all clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)*
Required Education Master's or doctoral degree in psychology
Key Skills Communication skills; analytical skills; problem-solving skills, trustworthiness; observational skills

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education

As a course of study, abnormal psychology is most commonly found in undergraduate and graduate psychology degree programs. Topics of discussion tend to focus on the causes of psychological abnormalities from the variety of theoretical standpoints explained above. You will likely study a variety of disorders, including anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, sexual disorders, personality disorders, bipolar personality and schizophrenia. You also learn about diagnosis procedures and treatments, along with the ethical implications to assisting patients with abnormal psychological disorders.

Careers

Many students who study abnormal psychology are preparing for careers in one of the psychology subfields, such as rehabilitation psychology, clinical psychology or counseling psychology. Graduates of psychology bachelor's degree programs can use their knowledge of abnormal psychology to work as rehabilitation assistants, according to the APA. These professionals help patients cope with personality or mood disorders.

Advanced degree graduates may become counselors, clinical researchers or clinical practitioners. These careers typically require licensure, and qualifications may include completion of a graduate program, an internship, supervised work experience and one or more standardized exams. Those interested in teaching abnormal psychology at the collegiate level usually have a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology.