AP Psychology Unit 8 Notes: Clinical Psychology

February 13, 2024
AP Psychology Study Notes: Unit 8

Get ready for the AP Psychology exam by reviewing important Clinical Psychology topics. In this guide, you’ll get an overview of what is covered in Unit 8 of AP Psychology, including key terms and people you should know. These AP Psychology study notes should be used to supplement what you’re learning in your AP Psych class. More study strategies and expert tips can be found in our latest AP Psychology Test Prep Book.

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AP Psychology: Unit 8 Summary

This unit addresses psychological disorders and treatment of these mental health issues. Professional psychologists often describe themselves as “clinical psychologists” or “academic psychologists.” Clinical psychologists are concerned with how psychological disorders are defined and diagnosed, and what treatments are recommended for these disorders.

Psychological Disorders

Abnormal psychology is the study of people who suffer from psychological disorders. These disorders may be manifested in a person’s behavior and/or thoughts. Abnormal psychology encompasses the study of relatively common problems such as depression, substance abuse, and learning difficulties, as well as the study of fairly rare, and particularly severe, disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Treatment of Psychological Disorders

Just as there are many different views about the cause of mental disorders, many different beliefs exist about the appropriate way to treat psychological illness. All the methods of treatment, however, share a common purpose: to alter the client’s behavior, thoughts, and/or feelings.

AP Psychology: Unit 8 Key Terms & People

Below, we describe some of the Unit 8 key terms and people you should review ahead of the AP Psychology exam.

  • Insane: The term “insane,” often used by laypeople to describe psychological disorders in general, is not a medical term. 
  • Insanity: “Insanity” is a legal term. The reason behind the legal definition of insanity is to differentiate between those people who can be held entirely responsible for their crimes (the sane) and those people who, because of a psychological disorder, cannot be held fully responsible for their actions. When defendants plead not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI), they are asking that the court acquit them due to psychological factors.
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): The DSM, as its name suggests, provides a way for psychologists to diagnose their patients. The DSM contains the symptoms of everything currently considered to be a psychological disorder
  • Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders, as their name suggests, share a common symptom of anxiety. Three common anxiety disorders are phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
  • Somatic symptom disorders: Somatic symptom disorders occur when a person manifests a psychological problem through a physiological symptom. In other words, such a person experiences a physical problem in the absence of any identifiable physical cause.
  • Dissociative disorders: Dissociative disorders involve a disruption in conscious processes. Dissociative amnesia and dissociative identity disorder (DID) are classified as dissociative disorders.
  • Mood disorder: Someone with a mood or affective disorder experiences extreme or inappropriate emotions.
  • Major depressive disorder: Major depressive disorder, also known as unipolar depression, is the most common mood disorder and is often referred to as the common cold of all psychological disorders. The DSM-5 outlines the symptoms that must be present for such a diagnosis. One key factor is the length of the depressive episode. People who are clinically depressed remain unhappy for more than two weeks in the absence of a clear reason.
  • Aaron Beck: Aaron Beck, a cognitive theorist, believed that depression results from unreasonably negative ideas that people have about themselves, their world, and their futures. Beck calls these three components the cognitive triad.
  • Learned Helplessness: Learned helplessness is a theory about the cause of depression developed by Martin Seligman. Learned helplessness is when one’s prior experiences have caused that person to view him- or herself as unable to control aspects of the future that are controllable. This belief, then, may result in passivity and depression. When undesirable things occur, that individual feels unable to improve the situation and therefore becomes depressed.
  • Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, usually involves both depressed and manic episodes. People experience manic episodes in different ways but they usually involve feelings of high energy. While some sufferers will feel a heightened sense of confidence and power, others simply feel anxious and irritable.
  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is probably the most severe and debilitating of the psychological disorders. It tends to strike people as they enter young adulthood. The fundamental symptom of schizophrenia is disordered, distorted thinking often demonstrated through delusions, hallucinations, disorganized language, and/or unusual affect and motor behavior.
  • Dopamine hypothesis: One of the most popular ideas about the cause of schizophrenia is biological and is called the dopamine hypothesis. The basic idea behind the dopamine hypothesis is that high levels of dopamine seem to be associated with schizophrenia.
  • Personality disorders: Personality disorders are well-established, maladaptive ways of behaving that negatively affect people’s ability to function.
  • Antisocial personality disorder: The most important personality disorder with which you should be familiar is antisocial personality disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder have little regard for other people’s feelings. They view the world as a hostile place where people need to look out for themselves. Not surprisingly, criminals seem to manifest a high incidence of antisocial personality disorder.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic technique developed by Sigmund Freud. A patient undergoing traditional psychoanalysis will usually lie on a couch while the therapist sits in a chair out of the patient’s line of vision. Psychoanalytic theorists view the cause of disorders as unconscious conflicts. As a result, their focus is on identifying the underlying cause of the problem. Psychoanalysts believe that other methods of therapy may succeed in ridding a client of a particular symptom but do not address the true problem.
  • Humanistic therapies: Humanistic therapies focus on helping people to understand and accept themselves, and strive to self-actualize. Self-actualization means to reach one’s highest potential. Humanistic psychologists view it as a powerful motivational goal.
  • Carl Rogers: One of the best known humanistic therapists is Carl Rogers. Rogers created client-centered therapy, also known as person-centered therapy. This therapeutic method hinges on the therapist providing the client with what Rogers termed unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard is blanket acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard is essential to healthy development. People who have not experienced it may come to see themselves in the negative ways that others have made them feel. By providing unconditional positive regard, humanistic therapists seek to help their clients accept and take responsibility for themselves.
  • Behavioral therapy: Behaviorists believe that all behavior is learned. The  various ways  people learn include classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling. Behaviorists base their therapies upon these same learning principles.
  • Counterconditioning: Counterconditioning is a kind of classical conditioning developed by Mary Cover Jones in which an unpleasant conditioned response is replaced with a pleasant one. For instance, suppose Charley is afraid of going to the doctor and cries hysterically as soon as he enters the doctor’s office. His mother might attempt to replace the conditioned response of crying with contentment by bringing Charley’s favorite snacks and toys with them every time they go to the office.
  • Anxiety hierarchy: An anxiety hierarchy is a rank-ordered list of what the client fears, starting with the least frightening and ending with the most frightening.
  • Cognitive therapy: As cognitive therapists locate the cause of psychological problems in the way people think, their methods of therapy concentrate on changing these unhealthy thought patterns. Cognitive therapy is often quite combative as therapists challenge the irrational thinking patterns of their clients.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: One popular group of therapies combines the ideas and techniques of cognitive and behavioral psychologists. This approach to therapy is known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
  • Somatic therapy: Psychologists with a biomedical (biological) orientation, as mentioned earlier, see the cause of psychological disorders in organic causes. These include imbalances in neurotransmitters or hormones, structural abnormalities in the brain, or genetic predispositions that might underlie the other two. Therefore, these psychologists advocate the use of somatic therapies—therapies that produce bodily changes.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy: Another kind of somatic therapy is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In bilateral ECT, electric current is passed through both hemispheres of the brain. Unilateral ECT involves running current through only one hemisphere. Bilateral ECT, although generally more effective, also has more significant negative side effects, most notably loss of memory. The electric shock causes patients to experience a brief seizure. ECT is a less common treatment than chemotherapy. It is used, most often, for severe cases of depression after other methods have failed. Although the means by which ECT works is not completely understood, one theory suggests that the benefits are the result of a change in the brain’s blood flow patterns.

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