What Are the Key Factors to Consider When Diagnosing and Treating Behavioral Disorders, and How Does Cultural Sensitivity Impact the Diagnostic Process?


Assignment Question

When we say abnormal behavior, what exactly does that mean… to be abnormal (Think about the 4 D’s maybe)? 2. What are the 3 factors we must consider when looking at abnormal behaviors? Can you provide a quick example of each 3. Since we look at evidence based treatments and look at psychology itself as a science, why is the scientific method so important with respect to behavioral disorders? What does this allow for us when we perform research? 4. Briefly compare and contrast the DSM-V with the ICD-10. What do they have in common and how are they different? 5. What are the steps one must take in making a diagnosis? Briefly take us through this process and why it is important to get it right to the best of one’s ability. 6. What role does cultural influence play in these disorders and/or diagnoses? Why is culture important? 7. What does it mean to have a co-morbid disorder? Why do you think people might have co-morbid disorders? Are there commonalities in biology or environment that lead to this?



Abnormal behavior in psychology is a multifaceted concept that encompasses various dimensions, and it is crucial to explore what exactly constitutes “abnormal.” One widely-used framework for understanding abnormal behavior is the 4 D’s: Deviance, Distress, Dysfunction, and Danger. Deviance refers to behavior that deviates from societal norms, which can vary across cultures and time periods. Distress signifies the emotional suffering experienced by an individual, indicating that abnormal behavior is often accompanied by significant discomfort. Dysfunction relates to impaired functioning in daily life, where individuals struggle to meet their responsibilities and maintain relationships. Danger pertains to behavior that poses harm to oneself or others, highlighting the potential risks associated with some forms of abnormal behavior. Three key factors that must be considered when examining abnormal behaviors are biological, psychological, and social factors. These factors interact and influence each other, contributing to the development and manifestation of abnormal behaviors. For example, let’s consider the case of schizophrenia. Biological factors may include genetic predispositions and neurotransmitter imbalances, psychological factors might involve cognitive deficits and emotional disturbances, and social factors could encompass the impact of a dysfunctional family environment or societal stigma.

The Scientific Method and Evidence-Based Treatment

The scientific method is a fundamental aspect of psychology, especially in understanding and treating behavioral disorders. It provides a systematic approach to research and inquiry, ensuring that findings are based on empirical evidence. This method involves systematic observation, hypothesis testing, data collection, and analysis. By adhering to the scientific method, psychologists can produce reliable and replicable results (Cozby & Bates, 2019). Evidence-based treatments in psychology are rooted in the scientific method, which allows for rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of interventions. This evidence-based approach ensures that treatments are based on solid empirical research, increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has gained substantial empirical support as an effective treatment for various anxiety disorders, demonstrating how scientific methods validate and guide therapeutic practices (Hofmann et al., 2012).

Comparing DSM-V and ICD-10

The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) and the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision) are two widely used classification systems in psychology and psychiatry. These systems serve as diagnostic tools, providing standardized criteria for identifying mental and behavioral disorders. While they share the common goal of classification and diagnosis, they differ in terms of their origins and purposes. The DSM-V primarily focuses on psychiatric diagnoses and is predominantly used in the United States. It provides detailed descriptions of mental disorders and their diagnostic criteria, aiding clinicians in making specific diagnoses. On the other hand, the ICD-10 is a global classification system used for various medical conditions, not limited to mental health. It provides a broader perspective on health conditions, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between mental and physical health (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; World Health Organization, 2010).

Steps in Making a Diagnosis

The process of making a diagnosis in psychology involves several crucial steps. First, a comprehensive clinical assessment is conducted, which includes structured interviews, observations, and psychological testing. Second, the gathered information is compared to the diagnostic criteria outlined in either the DSM-V or ICD-10, depending on the clinician’s preference and location. Third, a provisional diagnosis is made, taking into account the individual’s unique circumstances and symptom presentation. Finally, ongoing monitoring and reassessment are essential to refine the diagnosis and treatment plan, as mental health conditions can evolve over time. Accurate diagnosis is paramount as it guides treatment decisions and ensures that individuals receive appropriate care tailored to their specific needs (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2019).

Cultural Influence in Behavioral Disorders

Cultural influence plays a significant role in the manifestation and diagnosis of behavioral disorders. Culture shapes individuals’ beliefs, values, and behaviors, influencing how they express distress and cope with psychological symptoms. Cultural factors can lead to variations in symptom presentation and treatment preferences. Therefore, it is essential for psychologists to exercise cultural sensitivity and competence when diagnosing and treating individuals from diverse backgrounds. For example, somatization, a cultural-bound syndrome, is more prevalent in some cultures, where psychological distress is often expressed through physical symptoms. Understanding these cultural variations is crucial to avoid misinterpretation and misdiagnosis. Cultural competence in diagnosis helps ensure that individuals receive culturally appropriate and effective treatment (Sue et al., 2016).

Co-Morbid Disorders

Co-morbid disorders, also known as comorbidity, refer to the presence of two or more distinct disorders in an individual simultaneously. This phenomenon is relatively common in psychology and can be attributed to various factors. One common factor contributing to comorbidity is shared biological vulnerabilities. For example, individuals with a family history of mood disorders may be at a higher risk of developing both depression and anxiety disorders due to shared genetic predispositions. Additionally, environmental stressors and traumatic experiences can contribute to comorbidity. For instance, someone who has experienced childhood trauma may develop both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a substance use disorder as a way to cope with their distress. Comorbidity presents challenges in diagnosis and treatment, as clinicians must address multiple conditions simultaneously. It underscores the importance of a holistic and integrated approach to mental health care (Kessler et al., 2005).


In conclusion, the concept of abnormal behavior in psychology is multifaceted, encompassing various dimensions such as deviance, distress, dysfunction, and danger. When examining abnormal behaviors, it is essential to consider biological, psychological, and social factors, as they interact to influence the development of these behaviors. The scientific method is a cornerstone of psychology, ensuring that research is rigorous and evidence-based, which is crucial for understanding and treating behavioral disorders effectively. The DSM-V and ICD-10 serve as important diagnostic tools, albeit with differences in scope and application. The diagnostic process is meticulous, involving comprehensive clinical assessments, provisional diagnoses, and ongoing monitoring. Cultural influences on behavioral disorders highlight the need for cultural sensitivity in diagnosis and treatment. Lastly, comorbidity is common in psychology, often resulting from shared biological vulnerabilities and environmental factors, emphasizing the importance of integrated approaches to mental health care. In this ever-evolving field, understanding and diagnosing abnormal behavior is essential for improving the well-being of individuals and communities.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Butcher, J. N., Hooley, J. M., & Mineka, S. (2018). Abnormal psychology (17th ed.). Pearson.

Cozby, P. C., & Bates, S. C. (2019). Methods in behavioral research (13th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Comer, R. J. (2016). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (8th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440.

Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617–627.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2019). Abnormal psychology (8th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Sue, D. W., Sue, D., Sue, S., & Sue, D. M. (2016). Understanding abnormal behavior (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What are the 4 D’s used to understand abnormal behavior in psychology?

A1: The 4 D’s in psychology refer to Deviance, Distress, Dysfunction, and Danger. Deviance implies behavior that deviates from societal norms. Distress signifies the emotional suffering associated with abnormal behavior. Dysfunction relates to impaired daily functioning, and danger pertains to behavior that poses harm to oneself or others.

Q2: What are the three key factors to consider when examining abnormal behaviors, and can you provide examples?

A2: When examining abnormal behaviors, it’s crucial to consider biological, psychological, and social factors. For instance, in the case of depression, biological factors may involve genetic predispositions, psychological factors could include negative thought patterns, and social factors might encompass stressful life events.

Q3: Why is the scientific method important in psychology, especially concerning behavioral disorders?

A3: The scientific method is essential in psychology as it provides a systematic approach to research and inquiry. It ensures that findings are based on empirical evidence, which is crucial for understanding and treating behavioral disorders effectively. It involves systematic observation, hypothesis testing, data collection, and analysis, ensuring rigorous and replicable research.

Q4: How do the DSM-V and ICD-10 differ in their approach to diagnosis?

A4: The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) primarily focuses on psychiatric diagnoses and is widely used in the United States. In contrast, the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) is a global classification system covering various medical conditions. While both serve the goal of diagnosis, the DSM-V provides detailed descriptions of mental disorders, while the ICD-10 offers a broader perspective on health conditions.

Q5: What steps are involved in making a diagnosis in psychology, and why is it important to get it right?

A5: The steps in making a diagnosis include a comprehensive clinical assessment, comparing gathered information to diagnostic criteria, making a provisional diagnosis, and ongoing monitoring. It is crucial to get it right to guide treatment decisions accurately, as a correct diagnosis ensures individuals receive appropriate care tailored to their specific needs.