Psychology Retooling Institute and Seminar for the Mid-AtlanticI



Index Prism I &II
Prism II Module on Therapy


Dallas Dolan
Dundalk Community College

Kendall Luthy
Chesapeake College

Robin Yaure
Penn State Mont Alto

I.Overview      II.Learning Objectives     III. Content Guidelines
IV. Suggested motion pictures       V. Resources and References          VI. Contact Us

I. Overview

This module provides instructors with approximately one week's worth of classes focusing on abnormal psychology. It covers definitions of "abnormal", theories of psychopathology, and categories of mental disorders from the DSM-IV. It involves in-class activities as well as homework assignments and group presentations.

II.  Learning Objectives

This module has several objectives:

Provide students with the opportunity to explore alternative views of what "abnormality" is. Rather than provide a single definition, which may be impossible given the contextual nature of normal behavior, this module gives students the chance to identify their own beliefs about behavior and then compare them with professional definitions.

Demonstrate to students the variety of theoretical explanations for mental illness. Provide students with experience in applying different models of psychopathology to specific situations and recognize that different models may apply to the same situation.

Provide students with opportunity to examine current DSM-IV categories of mental illness. Give students opportunity to work cooperatively to present short demonstration of categories they have researched with a group.

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III. Content Guidelines

Day 1--Defining Abnormal Behavior

1: Brainstorming

Students break up into groups. Their task is to generate and write down as many "abnormal" behaviors that they can possibly think of as a group.

2: Analysis

After generating their lists, they are now to go through the list and think of situations in which these "abnormal" behaviors could be acceptable. This generates a class discussion of how hard it is to label a behavior "abnormal". David Rosenhan's (1973) research titled "On Being Sane in Insane Places" is also relevant at this point and can stimulate further class discussion. It would also be good to discuss why the current wisdom is to avoid calling people "abnormal" and instead refer to the behavior as dysfunctional.

3: Identifying

Students now turn to their textbooks to see how their text defines abnormal behavior. Taking the criteria from the textbook (statistical rarity, deviance from social norms, dysfunctional, and personal distress), students are now asked to refer to their list again and identify which behaviors fit the above criteria.


For the remaining class time, the DSM-IV is introduced. This can be presented in lecture or discussion formal. The purpose of this book, major classifications, multiaxial assessments, diagnostic criteria, and differential assessment are some of the important aspects to consider sharing with your class.

5: Conclusion

In preparation for the next class period, students should ponder the question, "How do theories help us define abnormal behavior?" Students should bring to class their completed templates (described below).

6: Homework

Directions: In preparation for discussions of abnormal behavior, please use the information in your text on personality theories to complete the following chart. Be sure to include all the major theories, such as Psychodynamic, Learning, Humanistic-Existential, and Biological.

Review of Theories of Personality

Main Points
Associated Therapies

Day 2--Jigsaw Activity: Theories of Mental Illness

1: Group assignment and introduction to theories

Each group will be assigned one of the major theories of mental illness. They need to read and discuss the important concepts related to that theory in the chapter on theories of personality. Students should then prepare a list of important concepts for presentation and discussion with class members in other groups. Each group member should keep a list of these important concepts.

2: Case discussion (part 1)

Students will read the Case of Sam (below). Each group should discuss the following questions from the perspective of their assigned theory. Each student should take notes, since each will soon become a member of a group in which s/he will be the "expert" on this theory.

What would the theory have to say about this case?

What hypotheses might this perspective have about the behavior?

What questions would a psychologist from this perspective want answered?

What implications for treatment of Sam are there from the perspective of this theory?

The Case of Sam

Sam is a 9 year old boy from a middle-class family. Sam is the oldest of three children, with siblings Jane (6) and Steven (2). Sam's parents are currently separated, due largely to the discovery that Sam's mother had been involved in an extramarital affair for the past year. Sam has been referred to a psychologist, because of symptoms that have been present since approximately 6 1/2, but have been worsening. Sam appears to be of average to above average intelligence and ability, and does not evidence any learning difficulties. Sam's symptoms include frequent headaches, reluctance to go to school (crying, feeling ill each morning, going to the nurse's office daily), decrease in productivity at school and decrease in grades, and intense physical outbursts, mostly fights with peers and siblings. Sam has also been observed on several occasions by his teacher to be tearing up his school work and school books, and to be stabbing himself with a pencil. Sam's teacher and school counselor have urged his parents to seek an evaluation with a psychologist for Sam.

3: Jigsaw assignment

A student from each of the groups from Step 1 will now be assigned to a new group, which is composed of one member representing each theory. Each person in this new group should present the highlights of the theory s/he has become an (instant) expert in very briefly (1-2 minutes).

4: Case discussion (part 2)

Using the questions under Step 2, group members should take turns sharing the perspective of their assigned theory on the Case of Sam. In addition, the group should consider the following questions:

Which theory do you think does the best job of explaining Sam's behavior?

Which theory do you think would provide the best treatment for Sam's difficulties?

5: Homework

Students are assigned or choose groups of 3-4 to present a short presentation on categories of mental disorders outlined in DSM-IV. Depending upon the number of students in the class, the categories or number of mental disorders presented may vary. Presentation lengths may also vary depending upon the total number of groups created. The requirements of the presentation will be described below. The in-class activity will be the presentations themselves as well as filling out the template provided below.

Day  3--Student Presentations

1: Assigning Disorders

Students are assigned or choose a group of 3-4 students and then either a category of disorders or a specific disorder. They are assigned a time limit for their presentation (5-10 minutes should be sufficient for a brief overview of the problem, a demonstration of the problem, and a description of the symptoms and possible causes).
 Category Mental Disorder Symptoms Causes
Substance Use Psychoactive Substance Abuse     
  Psychoactive Substance Dependence     
Anxiety Disorders Generalized Anxiety Disorder     



 Panic Disorder    



Phobic Disorders    



Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder    
  Post-traumatic stress 


   Conversion Disorder 


  Body Dysmorphic Disorder     
Dissociative Disorders Dissociative Amnesia 


   Dissociative Fugue 


  Dissociative Identify Disorder (MPD)     
 Mood Disorders Major Depressive Disorders     
Schizophrenic Disorders Schizophrenia 


 Personality Disorders      

2: The Presentation

In groups, students will present 5-10 minutes (or longer) on the assigned mental disorder(s). The presentations may include, but are not limited to: videotapes (either professionally created or homemade; fiction or non-fiction), skits, and overheads or handouts. Note: Often, the fewer restrictions made for the presentations, the more creative students become.

The presentation generally should include, although this may vary according to individual instructor's desires, a description of the DSM-IV classification, summary of the subtypes and/or symptoms, a brief explanation of how the film clip or other material relates to the disorder in question. It is important to emphasize to students that they limit the material being presented on slides or overheads to a memorable amount.

3: Template

During each of the presentations, the rest of the class should be filling out the template (created in advance based on the number of presentations). This will provide them with an active learning activity during the presentations, which should help improve learning and memory of the material. It will also provide a guideline for the presentations and for questions following the presentations. Students may use the templates for a study aid.
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Suggested motion picture films for student presentations:

Substance use:

Clean and Sober

Bar Fly

Anxiety disorders:

As Good as it Gets

What about Bob?


Copy Cat (agoraphobia)

Coming Home

Somatoform disorders:

Hannah and Her Sisters (or other Woody Allen films)

My Girl

Dissociative Disorders:

Three Faces of Eve


Primal Fear

Mood Disorders:

Mr. Jones

Schizophrenic Disorders:

The Fisher King

Personality Disorders:

Fatal Attraction (borderline disorder)
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Index Prism I &II

Prism II Module on Therapy

Resources and References

Davis, Stephen F. & Palladino, Joseph (1997). Psychology 2, Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (1994). American Psychiatric Association: Washington, DC.

Rosenhan, David L. (1973). On being sane in insane places. Science, 179.

Contributors to this Module:

Dallas Dolan--Dundalk Community College
FAX: (410) 285-9440

Kendall Luthy--Chesapeake College
FAX: (410) 820-6406

Robin Yaure--Penn State Mont Alto
FAX: (717) 749-6069

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Should you find a problem with this page (links, not content) please email me   Mary Kay