Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal patterns of thought, behavior or emotion, particularly those that are disruptive to health or are associated with psychological disorders. Abnormal psychology is a theoretical and experimental branch, as opposed to an applied branch; abnormal psychologists perform research and develop theorists, but don’t treat patients.
What is considered abnormal? Obviously, we all have our quirks, but as long as these quirks aren’t destructive to self or others, they aren’t considered abnormal in the psychological sense of the word. Abnormal psychology is concerned with disorders that make it difficult for a person to properly function in society or to fit in with others. These disorders might make it difficult to hold down a job, communicate effectively, develop friendships or meet the needs of everyday life.
Abnormal psychologists interview and perform experiments on patients with certain disorders. They can also develop theories on these disorders or help research treatment methods for them. Their research often proves valuable to the clinical and counseling psychologists who treat patients who have these disorders.
Some psychological disorders can be partly or wholly caused by physical, emotional or mental issues. General types of abnormal disorders include:
- Mood disorders (like clinical depression and bipolar disorder) refer to disorders that cause extreme changes of mood that make it difficult to function in daily life.
- Adjustment disorders cause an inability to properly adjust to the stress of a particular situation, such as a major life event. These disorders are similar to depression, except that depression is a generalized condition, while adjustment disorders can be directly traced to a particular situation that causes stress.
- Anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme anxiety that normally is caused by a particular situation or thing. For example, a person with a spider phobia will react with extreme fear to a spider. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, agoraphobia, particular phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Developmental disorders refer to chronic conditions that began early in childhood and interfere with normal development, such as learning disorders, motor skills disorders or communication disorders.
- Cognitive disorders refer to disorders that primarily affect memory, perception, learning and problem-solving. Examples include dementia, delirium and amnesia.
Types of Degrees
A degree in abnormal psychology may help students to understand and analyze various disorders as well as to conduct research for symptom identification and treatments. Students typically cover the core courses in psychology along with specialized courses in abnormal psychology such as cognitive and developmental disorders and psychotherapy.
The undergraduate degree is spread over a span of 3-4 years with a focus on introductory courses in the initial terms. As students progress, they will take courses which are more specialized. Typically, one term consists of 6-7 courses. Students are allowed to choose electives with their core courses, depending on how comprehensive the program is.
At the undergraduate level, abnormal psychologists usually get a Bachelor of Science in psychology because it offers more lab and science classes than a Bachelor of Arts. Bachelor’s degrees in psychology always include basic courses in abnormal psychology. Courses taught at undergraduate level include:
- Human sexuality
- Developmental psychology
- Child psychology
- Social psychology
- Experimental psychology
The next step for most abnormal psychologists is to acquire a Master of Science in experimental psychology, which prepares students for a career in psychological research. This degree may qualify students for jobs as research assistants, market researchers, science writers or community college teachers. Universities prefer students who have an undergraduate degree in psychology but it is not compulsory. Applicants may have to take the GRE general test. International applicants may have to take the TOEFL test and earn a score of 80.
The ultimate degree for most abnormal psychologists is the PhD in experimental psychology, which will allow the student to gain a license as a full-fledged psychological researcher or become a teacher. Prospective teachers can instead get a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree.
Abnormal psychologists don’t treat patients directly, leaving that job to clinical psychologists or counseling psychologists. Abnormal psychologists spend much of their time in research and in writing research papers.
Most abnormal psychologists work in a university, governmental research facility, mental health facility or corporate research facility. Researchers often concentrate their research upon a particular psychological disorder. Abnormal psychologists who work for a university often spend part of their time teaching.
According to the Bureau of Labor, the 2012 median pay rate for psychologists in general was $69,280 per year or $33.31 per hour. According to simplyhired.com, the average salary in 2014 for abnormal psychologists in particular was $54,000 per year. These salaries vary from state-to-state and from employer-to-employer, and also depend upon factors like the amount of education and experience.