Abnormal behaviour can take a variety of different forms. Traditionally abnormal behaviour is defined as any behaviour which deviates from the normal socially accepted behaviours (McLeod, 2008)#_ENREF_5″ t “McLeod, 2008 #112.While there been a lot of controversy about the treatment of these behaviours, there are techniques which have proven to be successful. When treating this abnormal behaviour there are three very distinctive types of treatment models: medical, behavioural and cognitive (McLeod, 2008)#_ENREF_5” t “McLeod, 2008 #112.
In the medical model the abnormal behaviour is thought of as a disease, similar to how we would consider cancer to be a disease. As such abnormal behaviours are thought to have a physical cause. This physical cause could be a result of a person’s genetics, an imbalance in a neurotransmitter, or a result of a dysfunction in a biochemical pathway (McLeod, 2008). Therefore similar to how tumors are removed to cure cancer, patients are given treatments to help correct or alleviate the physical defect to cure the abnormal behaviour, usually through medication or surgery.

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Unlike the medical model, the behavioural model assumes that the abnormal behaviour is not a disease or based on a physical cause. Instead this model believes that the abnormal behaviour is acquired through the environment. In this model it is believed that a person’s experiences have led to the development of the deviant behaviour (McLeod, 2008). Therefore as abnormal behaviour has been learned, practitioners of this model believe that the behaviour can also be unlearned. As such this model holds that the abnormal behaviour can be alleviated through conditioning to alter the patient’s behaviour (McLeod, 2008).

Similar to the behavioural model, the cognitive model also does not believe that the abnormal behaviour is a result of a disease. It assumes that the behaviour is a result of the patient’s thinking. This model holds that the abnormal behaviour is a result of irrational or faulty thoughts (McLeod, 2008). As such it believes that is it the way a person thinks about the behaviour and not the actual behaviour that is the cause. Therefore practitioners of this model teach patients to alter their thinking. It is then this altered thinking will then lead to a change in the abnormal behaviour (McLeod, 2008).

Within each of these three models there are several different treatment options that have been used to try to treat abnormal behaviours. Within the medical model psychosurgery techniques such as electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomy and trepanning have been used. Within the behavioural (or behaviourism) model classical conditioning and operant conditioning have been applied. Finally by combining the cognitive model and the behavioural model social learning theory has been used to help alter abnormal behaviours (McLeod, 2008).

When using the medical model there are several assumptions that are made. First as mentioned above, abnormal behaviours are treated as diseases with a physical cause. Because of this the Doctor looks for a physical cause to the behaviour, such as genetics or some biochemical malfunction, such as a problem with neurotransmitters. As well things such as hallucinations, phobias or thoughts of suicide are all treated like symptoms of the disease (Patil and Giordano, 2010). These symptoms then allow the Doctor to make a diagnosis which can then be treated either by medications or psychosurgery techniques such as Electroconvulsive therapy (McLeod, 2008).

Psychosurgery is also commonly known as neurosurgery for mental disorder (NMD). It is a type of surgery that is done on the brain and is used as a treatment for mental disorders. Although some of the procedures used are considered highly controversial and many are not practiced routinely today (Mashour et al., 2005). Although it has always been a controversial field, a significant number of patients do see improvement in their symptoms after this surgery is performed (Mashour et al., 2005). While there are a wide variety of psychosurgeries that can be preformed, many are not commonly used today. Three well known procedures which will be discussed below are that of Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), lobotomy and trepanning.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical procedure where the patient is placed under anesthesia and then small electrical shocks are given to the brain. Contrary to most media reports as this procedure is done under anesthesia the patient does not experience any pain. These shocks cause a very short seizure to occur which leads to changes in the chemistry of the brain. This change in brain chemistry has been attributed to causing a quick reversal of abnormal behaviours (Rose et al., 2003).

Unlike ECT which does not change the physical structure of the brain or skull lobotomy and trepanning involve physically changing the brain or the skull. In a lobotomy an incision is made in the prefrontal lobe of the brain and the prefrontal cortex is removed. Removal of this area has been shown to have serious side effects such as incontinence, eye problems, and mental dullness (Diefenbach et al., 1999). Therefore today lobotomies are not often used as a form of treatment.

Like lobotomies, Trepanning also involves a physical change in the brain. In this procedure a hole is drilled into the skull (Faria, 2013). It is considered one of the oldest surgical treatments of mental illness. In fact reports of its practice go all the way back to the dark ages. However, as the brain is exposed following this procedure there can be severe medical complications (McLeod, 2008). As with lobotomies this technique is also generally not practiced today.

Within the behavioural model (often called behaviourism) there are two types of conditioning which are often used to alter the behaviour and fix the abnormality. These two types are classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning, such as the example of Pavlov’s dogs, is a process in which two stimuli are paired together; eventually when the second stimulus is removed the response still occurs with the first stimuli alone (Kirsch et al., 2004). Unlike classical condition operant conditioning involves controlling the behaviour through consequences. In this method of conditioning the behaviour can either be altered through positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement or through either positive or negative punishment (McLeod, 2008).

As the cognitive model is similar to the behavioural model there is often overlap between the treatments for both these models. In particular the social learning theory bridges the gap between these two models (McLeod, 2008). In this theory it is believed that learning is a cognitive process and that this occurs as a result of one’s social setting. Therefore abnormal behaviour can be altered simply by observation and repeated instruction. As this model looks at both the abnormal behaviour and the thinking behind it is it often considered to be a combination of the cognitive and behavioural models.

Overall there are a wide variety of treatment options available to help alleviate abnormal behaviours. While some patients will respond well to one type of treatment others may not respond as well. Therefore when deciding what type of treatment to use to help alleviate the abnormal behaviour it is often necessary to combine several of these treatments together either from the same model or from separate models. However, with persistence and by trying different combinations it is possible to help the majority of patients with abnormal behaviours live a normal life.

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  • FARIA, M. 2013. Violence, mental illness, and the brain-A brief history of psychosurgery: Part 1-From trephination to lobotomy. Surgical neurology international, 4, 49.
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