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Abnormal Psychology


ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY. By abnormal psycho logy is meant the study of mental processes that deviate from an imagined norm. When the deviation is unmistakable the term "psychopathology" is more commonly employed. Otherwise the terms "medical psychology" or "clinical psychology" are the usual ones, "abnormal psychology" being used only by one psycho pathologist of note—Morton Prince. The term "clinical psycho logy" connotes a special approach and attitude towards the prob lems concerned, one identical with that indicated by the word "clinical" in medicine, namely, that the problem is envisaged as related to the whole of a living organism and not isolated as is often done in academic psychology. It is essential to realize from the outset that this subject is not, as might have been expected, simply the extension of the psychology of the normal to the study of the abnormal. For reasons that will become apparent later, what should have been the applied branch has had to create its own discipline, its own methods and its own general outlook. The case, indeed, has been reversed, for it is becoming plainer that it is only by means of studying the phenomena which for the sake of convenience we call "abnormal"—though they do not possess the attributes commonly associated with this word—that the deeper problems of the mind are at all possible of approach. This holds good for the so-called "normal" as for the so-called "ab normal," so that it is by no means impossible that the uncertainty in nomenclature just alluded to may ultimately be solved by our simply adopting the word "psychology" for the whole field.

The branch of science here considered has been almost en tirely the construction of the past 40 or 5o years. In this time a huge mass of knowledge, little known outside the specialist field, has accumulated. Much of it has been of an unexpected and, indeed, revolutionary nature which requires considerable assim ilation to the generally existing outlook on life and particularly to man's previous view of himself. The difficulties encountered in the earlier advances of science, repeated time and again in the past 400 years, here reach their maximum. They are both ex ternal, in the form of intense opposition to the unwelcome new, and internal, in the form of the subjectivity which is the bane of all science. The presence of the latter difficulty is evident, but an interesting discovery has been made in regard to the former: it appears likely that man's opposition to the new, which is one of his most characteristic qualities, is a radiation into all fields of thought, from the most concrete to the most abstract, of the effects of a deep-seated opposition against self-knowledge.


The key to the understanding of this new science lies in the concept of the unconscious, one which we owe essentially to the work of one man, Freud. Converging evidence from many sources had shown the necessity of assuming the existence of mental processes remote from consciousness and even inaccessible to it. By devising a special method of investigation Freud made it possible actually to penetrate into these deeper layers of the mind and to ascertain much about the structure and significance of their content. The mind can therefore no longer be regarded as a homogeneous unity, however much that part of it may which gives us the feeling of self, and the importance of the various conflicts and incompatibilities subsisting among the different portions of the mind is increasingly recognized.

Significance of Neuroses.

Since so much of this new knowl edge has been gained from study of the states known as functional nervous disorders or neuroses, something must be said about the general signification of these states. The main point is that the words "abnormal" and "disease" are singularly out of place in connection with them. Apart from the superficial considerations that the distinction between normal and abnormal is even more arbitrary here than elsewhere and that neurotic reactions are eas ily to be demonstrated with everyone, investigation of the origin and nature of such reactions convinces one that they represent little more than one particular way of responding to difficult stages in mental development which are of universal occurrence. They really constitute varieties of social adjustment rather than any disease in the ordinary sense. Neuroses are not things that happen to a person as an infection or an accident may; they are integral and dynamic expressions of the personality. They can not be described without importing the idea of purpose, the idea of their being designed to meet certain mental situations, to cope with certain difficulties, to achieve certain aims. A great part of modern psychology is built on these pseudo-teleological concep tions, though opinions differ widely whether the most adequate formulations will prove to be truly teleological and finalistic or strictly deterministic and even mechanistic in the widest sense.

normal, science, mind, mental and clinical