Unit 8 of AP Psychology (also known as the clinical psychology unit) covers 12-16% of the AP exam’s material. In this unit, you will learn about the evaluation, treatment, and classification of psychological disorders.
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Psychological disorders are diagnosed using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by licensed psychologists and/or psychiatrists. The DSM was created and is updated by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The most recent edition of the DSM is the DSM-5, released in 2013.
Somatic Symptom Disorder and other somatic disorders are identified by the presence of physical symptoms that impair normal functioning. No medical condition can be diagnosed due to the symptoms being created by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the disorder. An example of a somatic disorder is anorexia nervosa. While an individual may not be overweight, their perception is caused by unrealistic thoughts and behaviors.
The cause of Neurocognitive Disorder is any non-psychiatric medical disease that decreases mental functioning. These conditions can be categorized as breathing conditions, infections, degenerative diseases, brain trauma, cardiovascular disorders, and substance-abuse disorders.
A broad spectrum of disorders exists under the anxiety disorder category. A common misconception involves the classification of obsessive-compulsive disorders and trauma-based disorders, which are considered to be anxiety disorders. For the AP exam, you should have an understanding of the following anxiety disorders.
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Constant, exaggerated anxiety over most potential conflicts.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – A prominent fear of social interactions and their consequences that leads to purposeful avoidance.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Anxiety is caused by consistent triggers associated with a past traumatic event.
- Panic Disorder – Panic attacks and anxiety frequently occur. Panic attacks are characterized by an increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, and shaking.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Characterized by obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life and functioning.
- Phobia – A strong, constant fear caused by a particular object or act.
Anxiety disorders are often influenced by stress, genetics, trauma, substance use, existing health conditions, and unbalanced levels of GABA and serotonin.
Mood disorders are disruptive, major changes in mood that impair daily functioning. These changes in mood can be rooted in depression, mania, or both. Here’s a list of several mood disorders you should be aware of.
Bipolar Disorder – Identified by cyclical patterns of mania and depression. Excessive amounts of dopamine are often present.
Mania – High energy, minimal sleep, impulsive behaviors, restlessness.
Mixed Episode – Depressive and manic symptoms are both present.
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Characterized by lethargy, isolation, disordered eating and sleeping patterns, suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors, and low interest in previously enjoyed activities. Low serotonin is a main contributing factor.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Depression present during certain seasons, most commonly fall and winter. Sunlight, serotonin, and melatonin are positively correlated, meaning that the amount of light present can affect neurotransmitters and sleep cycles.
- Dysthymic Disorder – A mild form of depression that lasts longer than two years.
Mood disorders are primarily influenced by chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters, but can also be influenced by environmental and genetic factors.
Typically caused by abnormal brain development or brain damage, neurodevelopmental disorders include the following:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or an ability to focus. One or more must be present for a diagnosis to be considered.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – Unusual behavior, speech, interests, thoughts, and interactions are prominent features of ASD. Social cues may be difficult to understand, and behavior is often repetitive.
Dyslexia, dyscalculia, disgraphia, and stuttering are all learning disabilities, but are still considered neurodevelopmental disorders.
Not only psychologically damaging, eating disorders can also be deadly due to the inconsistent, unhealthy patterns of eating. Eating disorders vary, but are mostly centered around anxiety or aversion to food, often due to body image issues, previous experiences of food, or the physical properties (texture, taste, smell etc.) of food.
- Anorexia Nervosa – Delusions and anxiety regarding excessive weight are present leading to unhealthy methods of weight loss such as starvation. Despite being underweight, delusions continue.
- Bulimia Nervosa – Binge eating is present alongside cyclical patterns of purging food in an attempt to lose weight. This condition is extremely damaging to the throat and teeth due to the frequent purging.
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED) – Described as a loss of control regarding food portions resulting in overeating.
Other eating disorders not covered on the exam exist such as Avoidant Resistant Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
A psychotic episode is an episode where an individual loses touch with reality, often by experiencing auditory and/or delusions and hallucinations that cannot be distinguished between real and false. These sensations may be false information from the senses, or unrealistic beliefs such as a person being watched constantly, having powers (or similar delusions of grandeur), etc.
The most well-known psychotic disorder is schizophrenia, which has both positive and negative symptoms. A positive symptom is a behavior added due to schizophrenia, while a negative symptom is a behavior that is no longer possible to do, or that is impaired. Delusions can be erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, persecutory, somatic, or mixed, as well as both possible and unlikely or impossible. Thoughts and speech are often disorganized and difficult for
People with schizophrenia likely have an excess of dopamine, high activity in the amygdala and thalamus, and low activity in the frontal lobe. Risk factors and triggers of schizophrenia include genetics, stress, biological abnormalities, abuse, or substance use.
Personality disorders are complex, difficult to treat disorders that impair daily functioning due to unusual behavioral patterns. 10 personality disorders exist within 3 different categories known as clusters. Most personality disorders are only diagnosed after turning 18 due to controversy regarding development of the personality.
Cluster A personality disorders contain eccentric and unusual characteristics and behaviors. Individuals may be detached from reality.
- Schizoid Personality Disorder – Social detachment is present due to a lack of many emotions. Little pleasure or desire to form relationships occurs as well.
- Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) – Constantly suspicious of others with a near inability to trust due to constant fear. Fears can be related to relationships, possessions, and motives.
- Schizotypal Personality Disorder – Individuals are commonly seen as eccentric in their thoughts, behaviors, or speech. Delusions may occur leading the individual to believe they have powers, or that another person is untrustworthy. This in combination with the disorganized thought and speech patterns shows overlap with schizophrenia.
A lack of emotional regulation and an unrealistic perspective of self and others is present within cluster B personalities.
- Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) – Characterized by a disregard for others through manipulation or violation of other individuals without any remorse. Early childhood signs of ASPD include bed-wetting, arson, and intentional harm done to animals.
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – Emotions rapidly shift regarding self and others. Individuals with BPD see the world in black and white extremes with very little or no moral gray areas. Behavior may be impulsive or reckless as a result of the emotional swings.
- Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) – People with HPD strive to be the center of attention and to get approval from others. To achieve this goal, behaviors may be sexual, dramatic, or influenced heavily by the desires of others.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – NPD is extremely difficult to treat due to the tendency to blame issues on other people. If criticized, people with NPD may become sensitive and defensive. The main goal for these individuals is often to get ahead in life, resulting in little to no empathy or remorse for others.
High levels of fear and anxiety drive individuals with cluster C personality disorders.
- Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) – Characterized by low self-esteem, fear of rejection, and fear of judgement. As a result, any social activity is avoided out of fear.
- Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) – Anxiety occurs when a perceived risk of abandonment, isolation, rejection, and/or criticism is present.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) – OCPD (not to be confused with OCD) is a condition where anxiety is caused by obsessive thoughts of perfection where the individual is unable to realize a problem exists. Compulsions occur during attempts to achieve perfection.
Check out some of our other content on these earlier topics to learn more!