Strengths and Weaknesses of the Sociocultural Model

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  • 0:05 Sociocultural Model of…
  • 1:14 Strengths
  • 3:57 Weaknesses
  • 5:46 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.

How much of an impact do society and culture have on mental illness? Proponents of the sociocultural model believe that they play a major part. But there are both strengths and weaknesses of this model, which we'll examine in this lesson.

Sociocultural Model of Abnormality

Kelly has a problem. Recently, she's lost interest in the things she used to love to do. She feels sad most of the time, and she spends a lot of time in bed. In fact, she's been sleeping a lot more than usual. Her psychologist believes that she's suffering from depression. What causes depression and other psychological disorders? There are many theories about the causes of abnormality. Some psychologists believe that mental illness is caused by medical or biological causes. Others believe that disorders like depression are caused by faulty thought patterns.

The sociocultural theory of abnormal psychology says that family and society are key causes of psychological disorders. Take Kelly, for example. Maybe her depression is caused by the fact that her parents are always fighting. Maybe social pressures to be thin are to blame. Both of these are examples of how society can impact a person's mental health. As with other models of abnormality, sociocultural theory has its strengths and its weaknesses. Let's look closer at both.


No one lives in a vacuum. We're surrounded by society, family and culture in everything we do. Even if you stayed in your room all day and didn't see anyone, you'd still be influenced by society. What if you turned on the TV? What if you picked up a book or a magazine or logged onto the computer? All of these things are influenced by society, and by extension, they are common vehicles for society to influence individuals.

But there's more than even that. The way you behave every day, even when you're alone, has to do with the way that you're brought up. That's society at work, too. If people's behaviors aren't influenced by society, we'd never move past acting like a baby. We'd cry when we were hungry, sleep whenever we felt like it and expect someone else to clean up our diapers!

As you can see, society has a profound impact on everyone. One of the strengths of the sociocultural theory is that it directly addresses some of the issues surrounding family and society. For example, if Kelly's depression is caused by her family fighting, sociocultural treatments like family therapy can directly address the issues. Another strength of the sociocultural theory is that it looks at the issue of labeling. Everyone has certain labels attached to them: sister, mother, lover, doctor, runner. The list could go on and on.

Some labels are generally considered positive (like 'doctor'), and some are generally considered negative (like 'disorganized'). But even the positive labels come with expectations and stereotypes that might cause stress or other mental health issues. And some negative labels can have devastating effects for people.

One example of negative labeling that can really hurt a person is mental health labels. Many people, including psychologists, view psychological issues as being permanent. Often, patients are not seen as 'cured' but as 'in remission.' This means that the stigma of mental illness can follow someone around for their entire life, even if they never display symptoms of that illness again. The sociocultural model examines the impact of labels and tries to help people move beyond them.

One final strength of the sociocultural model of abnormality is the success rate. When other treatments have failed, many times, sociocultural treatments have succeeded. A great example of this is family therapy. Getting a family involved in treatment together and treating them as a unit instead of treating one individual from that family, can drastically increase the probability of success.

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