Biological Treatments for Psychological Abnormalities

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  • 0:06 Biological Psychology
  • 2:07 Medication
  • 4:40 ECT & Surgery
  • 7:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The biological model of psychology focuses on treating the underlying physical issues that might be causing psychological disorders. In this lesson, we'll go through some common biological treatments for mental illness.

Biological Psychology

Everyone knows that Vince is odd. He talks back to voices that only he can hear. He thinks that he's being watched and that his enemies are trying to control him with a device they planted in his arm. He also feels very little emotion and doesn't take care of his basic needs, like personal hygiene.

Norma, meanwhile, seems normal. She doesn't talk to imaginary people and doesn't have delusions about being persecuted. She showers and seems to act normally. But, Norma feels very sad all the time. She sometimes has trouble getting out of bed in the morning and doesn't really care about things that she used to really enjoy doing.

Even though Vince and Norma seem very different, they are both suffering from psychological issues. There are a wide variety of mental disorders and a wide variety of ways to treat them. For example, one psychologist might look at Norma's depression and say that it is caused by a problem from her childhood. As such, that psychologist would try to get Norma to talk about her childhood in order to treat her.

Another psychologist might say that Norma's problem is her thought process. If she can change the way she thinks, they argue, then she will not be depressed anymore. The biological model of psychology says that psychological disorders are caused by biological problems. Biological psychologists or neuropsychologists treat the underlying problems in the brain and nervous system in order to help alleviate the symptoms of the disorder.

For example, a psychologist who believes in the biological model might say that Norma's depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in her brain and prescribe antidepressant medications to help bring her brain back into a healthy balance. Let's look closer at some common treatments in biological psychology: medication, electrical therapy and psychosurgery.


Remember Vince? He hears voices and has delusions about being tracked. Vince goes to see a psychologist, who diagnoses him with schizophrenia, a mental disorder that involves hallucinations and delusions, among other symptoms. So, Vince has schizophrenia. What now? How should his psychologist treat Vince?

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are usually treated with medication. Since many of Vince's symptoms can be traced to problems in his brain, an antipsychotic drug can help mitigate the symptoms and bring Vince back to a more normal state. Patients like Vince aren't the only ones who can benefit from psychotropic medication. There are five general categories of psychological drugs, and each category helps people with different types of psychological disorders.

Antidepressants help people who suffer from clinical depression and related mood disorders. Remember how Norma is feeling sad all the time and having trouble getting out of bed in the morning? Antidepressant drugs can change Norma's brain chemistry so that she feels better.

Anti-anxiety drugs are used to treat people who have anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and phobias. Mood stabilizers are drugs used for people with bipolar disorder. Note that with bipolar disorder, a person experiences mania as well as depression. Mood stabilizers are the most common form of drug used for bipolar patients, though occasionally antidepressants can also be used.

Antipsychotics help people like Vince, who suffer from hallucinations and delusions. They change a person's brain chemistry so that the hallucinations and delusions are controlled. But, remember how Vince also doesn't feel very strong emotions and has trouble taking care of his basic needs? Symptoms like those will not improve with antipsychotic drugs.

Stimulants are most often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD for short. Stimulants, like Adderall, help patients focus. Though there are other psychological drugs out there, most of them fall into one of those five categories. Of course, as with any medication, psychotropic drugs have side effects. For example, when Vince begins taking antipsychotic medication, he begins to feel dizzy and drowsy regularly. Not only that, he gains a lot of weight. These are all side effects of his medication.

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