The medical model for abnormal psychology is the approach that treats mental illness as any other illness that has a physical cause. Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on unusual behavior, emotions, and thoughts that are causing what is recognized as a mental disorder. The mental disorder, using the medical model, is seen as a disease that can be traced to some pathological malfunction in the brain’s physiology.
Therapists use the medical model along with counseling and psychotherapy to treat mental illnesses but rely heavily on medication to treat symptoms of maladaptive behavior causing problems in the patient. Some typical approaches discussed in the Mayo Clinic’s web page Mental Illness – Treatments and Drugs are as follows:
Antidepressants such as Prozac and Celexa help manage the symptoms of depression – feelings of hopelessness, listlessness, and lack of concentration. Antidepressants are classified according to how they act on the chemistry of the brain.
♦ Bipolar disorder (rapid mood swings)
Mood stabilizers such as lithium, divalproex, lamotrigine and others help manage the rapid mood swings that accompany bipolar disorders. Sometimes, depending on the patient’s tolerance and physical side effects, antidepressants will be added to the patient’s prescription.
♦ Anxiety and panic disorders
Anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Ativan are fast acting and help relieve anxiety disorders within about 30 minutes. They help patients with generalized anxiety and sufferers from agitation and insomnia. These types of medications have dependency side effects, though.
♦ Psychotic disorders (schizophrenia)
Medications for treating psychotic disorders are known as neuroleptics. Also effective in treating bipolar disorders, or added to antidepressants to treat depression, anti-psychotic medications include Clozaril and Zyprexa.
♦ Other medical approaches
◊ Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been used in extreme cases to manage depression. It is often used when medications have not been effective. Passing electrical currents through the brain and causing an immediate brain seizure, ECT often works more quickly than medications, but can have some bad side effects.
◊ Transcranial magnetic stimulation has seemed to relieve depression symptoms in some patients. This approach uses magnets to stimulate areas of the brain linked to emotions.
◊ Vagus nerve stimulation uses a small pulse generator implanted in the patient’s upper chest connected to a nerve in the neck leading to the brain. Periodically stimulating this nerve, the pulse has been used to relieve depression.
◊ Deep brain stimulation involves brain and chest surgery, and is a procedure of last-resort. Surgeons implant a pulse generator into the patients upper chest that sends signals via wires to areas deep in the brain. Therapists believe that this procedure helps to ease mood swings and depression. This procedure has also resulted in some improvements with patients who have obsessive-compulsive disorders.
◊ Hospitalization and live-in treatment programs may be called for sufferers of serious mental disease. When the patient is immediate danger of inflicting harm on himself or others and cannot care for himself properly, psychiatric hospitalization may be called for.
So the medical model in abnormal psychology is an approach that calls on modern medicine to help manage, alleviate, or cure what is causing the patient’s harmful behavior. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, treats mental illness through helping the patient learn about his condition and providing insights and approaches to stress management and getting the patient to be active and cooperative in the treatment of what ails him.