Taking a holistic approach to the course

connections jigsawI have been trying over the past few years to do this, and am sometimes asked what I mean by ‘a holistic approach.’  The easy way is to demonstrate using an example. If you are teaching/studying the abnormal psychology option, for instance, you will probably be doing this after you have spent some time looking at the core approaches to explaining human behaviour (biological cognitive and sociocultural) and also looking at research methods and ethics.

So, now comes the time to apply your learning to the content of this option. Explore the differences between psychiatry (more medically and biologically based) and psychology (more cognitively and socially based). Take major depressive disorder, for example: how might a psychiatrist explain it?  How might they look for evidence to see if their explanation is correct and what sort of evidence would they see as valuable? How valid is their method of looking for evidence? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How might they want to treat MDD once they are sure a person is suffering from it? Discuss the benefits and limitations of this treatment. Are there any ethical considerations regarding this treatment? 

Now, how might a cognitive psychologist explain MDD? How would s/he look for evidence and what would they accept as evidence? How valid is this method? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How would a cognitive psychologist treat MDD.  Discuss the strengths and limitations of this treatment. Are there ethical considerations regarding this treatment?

What about sociocultural arguments that childhood trauma, domestic violence, poverty and stress can all singly or in combination be responsible for MDD? That removing the conditions that lead to MDD is the best treatment? 

Finally, consider the eclectic approach that is more common nowadays. What is the evidence that a combined approach to both the diagnosis, explanation of* and treatment for MDD may be more successful than a single approach? What is the evidence that doing nothing also works? What about a choice of approaches, or sequential treatment?

If we start the abnormal psychology option with these questions and work together to answer them, then the specific content becomes easier to understand in context of perspectives on abnormal psychology, and within the framework of approaches to research. This can be put into practice in the other options as well. Put it all together!

*e.g. Interaction between genetic vulnerability, environmental trigger and possible faulty cognition.

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