These four textbooks are designed specifically for those studying undergraduate abnormal psychology at North American universities, but they would serve as useful resources on undergraduate psychology courses on this side of the Atlantic. Supplementary reading would, however, be essential to add a European or British dimension.
All four texts make explicit reference to the fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( DSM IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Only Ronald Comer mentions, in passing, that in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases is in common use and informs research and practice in abnormal and clinical psychology. Important developments in UK evidence-based psychodynamic psychotherapy, notably cognitive analytical therapy, are not mentioned. There is scant reference to the ground-breaking work on evidence-based family therapy for eating disorders conducted at the Maudsley Hospital.
Leaving aside the exclusively North American focus, important therapeutic approaches, particularly family-systems approaches and social constructionist approaches, are given far less coverage than they deserve. In contrast, cognitive-behavioural and biological approaches are strongly privileged throughout, with moderate coverage going to psychodynamic explanations of abnormal behaviour.
Despite these reservations, the four volumes, which resemble each other much more than they differ, achieve their stated aim: to provide an overview of abnormal psychology in an interesting and informed way to undergraduates in this field. All have between 15 and 19 chapters and span between 500 and 700 pages. All open with the consideration of theories about abnormal behaviour from the earliest times to the present, due regard being given to theories that emphasise the biological, psychological and social factors in the aetiology of psychological difficulties. In all four books, an integrative lifespan-oriented, bio-psychosocial approach is advocated. They deal with research methods in abnormal psychology that are commonly used by those who adopt the scientist-practitioner model that has gained ascendance in the US and the UK. There is also a section in the opening chapters of each text that addresses the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of psychological difficulties, and the issues arising.
Against this backdrop, each text devotes the lion's share of space to common psychological difficulties, such as childhood disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, psychoses, somatic disorders, sexual disorders, addictions, personality disorders and psychological problems in older adulthood. The DSM IV conceptualisation of psychological problems in each of these categories is privileged in all four books. But controversies surrounding this type of conceptualisation of psychological problems are adequately covered.
Each book closes with a chapter addressing professional issues in the practice of clinical psychology, the organisation of services for people with psychological difficulties and the framing of relevant legislative issues.
The main chapters of each book are very similar in the types of material they cover. Most chapters open with case studies followed by a description of the clinical features of the disorder. The results of epidemiological studies are given. Then multiple theoretical explanations are outlined, usually followed by bio-psychosocial integrative explanations. Summaries of key research findings, illustrative examples of research studies and discussions of controversial ethical issues are commonly presented too. A commendable feature of all four texts is that research findings, references and case material are up to date.
The four books share similar sets of features that make them user-friendly learning resources. They are well laid out and beautifully illustrated with colour diagrams and photographs. There are chapter overviews, summaries, glossaries and numerous ancillaries, including CD-Roms with case material and interactive exercises; videos with dramatisations of disorders; study guides; instructor's guides; readers or case-study books of related material; and banks of test items. In addition, online resources are available for all four texts.
An important issue is the degree to which the four texts differ from their earlier editions. The oldest, published by Norton and now in its fourth edition, appeared first in 1984; Comer's text, though also in its fourth edition, dates from 1992. Both texts have had significant revisions. The two younger texts have been brought up to date since they were published in 1998, but not to the level of the two older texts.
Libraries should include at least one of these texts in their abnormal psychology sections, and since all four volumes cover such similar ground, the cheapest, Norton's is probably best value.
Alan Carr is director, doctoral training programme in clinical psychology, University College Dublin.
Abnormal Psychology .Third edition
Author - David H. Barlow and V. Mark Durand
ISBN - 0 534 58149 8
Publisher - Wadsworth/Thomson Learning
Price - £.99 with CD-Rom
Pages - 508