This course content in Psychology 2A covers an introduction to the psychology of mental health and wellbeing. It aims to show how psychological processes of adaptation and meaning making, as well as efforts to control and regulate distressing experiences, can lead to states that have historically been considered as ‘abnormal psychology’. The course illustrates critiques to that use of language, and the historical approaches to classification associated with it. Finally, links are made between theory and practice, showing how contemporary understandings of the origins and pathways to distress lead to different methods of psychological intervention.
Session 1: Controversies in the Psychology of Mental Health & Wellbeing
In the first of this series of six sessions on mental health and wellbeing, you will hear how psychologists have considered the topic matter that has in the past been known as ‘abnormal psychology’. You will learn why that term is considered problematic, and how the field of psychiatric diagnosis and psychological disorders is being challenged. You will also be introduced to psychological formulation as a potential alternative system to psychiatric classification.
Session 2: What factors are known to predict distress?
In this session we will examine research evidence that shows what aspects are reliably associated with poor mental health and wellbeing. Looking briefly at genetic and biological factors, we will spend more time on macro factors (poverty, harassment, marginalisation), historical and family factors (early childhood neglect and trauma, attachment, mentalisation) and on individual factors (beliefs, automatic attentional processes, behavioural responses)
Session 3: Good mental health is not just the absence of psychiatric disorder
In this session we will overview the development of positive psychology, including concepts such as pillars of wellbeing, and flourishing. We will also look at growth focussed interventions such as mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion.
Session 4: From principles to practice 1 – A CBT approach for health-related anxiety
In this session we will draw upon anonymised case material to show how a psychological understanding of individual factors (beliefs, thoughts, emotions, behaviours and perceptions) are used to construct a CBT formulation of health-related anxieties, in which bodily sensations are misinterpreted as signs of serious illness. The session will also show how formulation leads to the organisation of therapy to alter these maintaining patterns.
Session 5: From principles to practice 2 – The Power, Threat, Meaning Framework and its application to trauma and marginalisation
In this session we will draw upon anonymised case material to illustrate contemporary developments in understanding severe mental health concerns. The Power, Threat, Meaning Framework challenges the assumptions of traditional psychiatric classification. Instead of starting from a question of ‘What is wrong with you?” the PTM framework seeks to uncover ‘What has happened to you?” This practical framework draws upon the literature and concepts presented in session 2 and organises them into methods to help people to understand themselves and their ‘mental health problems’ as being shaped by their experiences of situations of powerlessness, threat and the meaning they were able to make of these.
Session 6: From principles to practice 3: Using a growth and wellbeing focus to adjust to life-threatening illness.
In this session, we draw on understandings from session 3 to show how growth focussed psychology can be supportive in even the most challenging of situations – facing death. Using anonymised case material, you will learn how common and natural distress is in such situations, how people engage in a range of responses to distress, and how some of these responses are less helpful. You will also see how a range of exercises and therapeutic approaches can help people to develop greater acceptance, and a focus on living a valued and meaningful life, no matter how long we have left.
By the end of these six sessions, students should have knowledge of classification-based approaches to so called ‘mental illness’, be able to critically analyse such conceptualisations and be aware of alternative approaches and frameworks. They should be aware of the empirical underpinning of a range of factors that are associated with poor mental health. In addition, they should understand how such conceptual frameworks and research evidence inform contemporary psychological interventions.