Understanding Abnormality

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSUS1PS7104

Course Coordinator and Team: AnshumitaPandey(KashmereGate); AnoopKoileri (Karampura)

Email of course coordinator: anshumita[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in ; anoopkoileri[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: Students should have successfully completed the course on Understanding Personality (SUS1PS701).

Aim: Inviting a critical engagement with the category of ‘the abnormal’, the course hopes to engage the student in a dialogue with dual emphases: critical reflection on the category of abnormality and the language of psychopathology. Thecourseopens up questions of power dynamics that structure the world of the ‘ab-normal’ and further foregrounds life stories struggling with psychological distress. Its special emphasis is equipping the student with a basic vocabulary around clinical disorders and how the discipline of Psychologyengages with the same. Debates on the conceptualization, classification and diagnosis of psychological disorders will be taken up, followed by a detailed look at the clinical picture of some common disorders. Case studies, short stories, films become important resources to ground theoretical gleanings as well as to deepen existential realities of these life stories. Even in this initial foray into the world of mental illness, the course hopes to sensitize the student to appreciate what a sustained engagement with clinical distress entails and hopes to lay the groundwork toward the making of an informed and empathic practitioner who is capable of sensitive reflection and is aware of his/her social responsibility in engaging with these disavowed life-worlds.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

1: Defining ‘Madness’

What is ‘abnormal’? Where is ‘the abnormal’? What is normal? Can what appear as mutually exclusive categories - normal-abnormal, sane-insane - have something in common? Through questions such as these, the introductory unit hopes to start a dialogue with the student about the notion of abnormality.

2: What causes Abnormality?

Does psychopathology originate in the body or in the mind, in the individual or society? The question is approached as we take up a brief history of abnormality and its changing conceptualizations and dominant perspectives. Foregrounded in such discussions is how historicizing thinking around abnormality opens up symptomatology – symptom as a communication of suffering and symptom as critique. Culminating in contemporary psychological vocabulary, the unit paves the way for major perspectives that allow us a clinical understanding of psychopathology.

3: Diagnosing Psychopathology

To facilitate an entry into the complex world of mental illness, a discussion around nomenclature and classification of disorders that structures our current thinking about different psychological disorders becomes necessary. Axes of such classifications and how the different schools of psychology look at psychological disorders are taken up. We begin learning the language of psychopathology.

4: Disorders (Anxiety, Mood and Schizophrenia): A Clinical Picture

The unit takes a close look at more frequent disorders: schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety to enable a deeper understanding of the same. Theory will be supplemented with narrative to open up ‘the person in the case’.

5: Conceptualizing Help: Psychotherapeutic Interventions

Major approaches in psychotherapy that alleviate suffering in distressed states shall be the focus.

Tentative Assessment schedule with details of weightage*:

S.No.AssessmentDate/period in which Assessment will take placeWeightage
1In class examinationMid September40%
2Group PresentationsMiddle to End October20%
3End Term ExaminationAS per SUS Academic Calender40%

* Kindly get in touch with course coordinators in respective campuses for the assessment plan.



  • Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life, Carson, Butcher &Mineka, Allyn& Bacon, 2000


  • Abnormal Psychology, Davison and Neale, J. Wiley & Sons, 2001
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th edition, text revision)/ DSM – IV –TR , 2000
  • The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness, R. D. Laing, Penguin, 1965
  • Plea for a Measure of Abnormality, Joyce McDougall, Brunner/Mazel, 1992
  • Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault, Random House, 1988
  • Diary of a Madman, Nikolai Gogol, Penguin, 1972
  • The House of Asterion, Jorge Louis Borges, Labyrinths, Penguin, 1965
  • Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, Oxford University Press, 2009
  • 15 Park Avenue, Film, AparnaSen, 2005
  • A Drop of Sunshine, Documentary, AparnaSanyal, 2011
  • Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, Documentary, Ross Wilson, 2006