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2.1 Uni- vs. Multi-Dimensional Models

Section Learning Objectives

  • Define the uni-dimensional model.
  • Explain the need for a multi-dimensional model of abnormality.
  • Define model.
  • List and describe the three models of abnormality.

2.1.1 Uni-Dimensional Models

In order to effectively treat a mental disorder, it is helpful to understand its cause. This could be a single factor such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, relationship with a parent, socioeconomic status (SES), a fearful event encountered during middle childhood, or the way in which the individual copes with life’s stressors. This single factor explanation is called a uni-dimensional model. The problem with this approach is that mental disorders are not typically caused by a solitary factor, but instead, they are caused by multiple factors. Admittedly, single factors do emerge during the course of the person’s life, but as they arise they become part of the individual and in time, the cause of the person’s disorder is due to all of these individual factors.

2.1.2 Multi-Dimensional

So, in reality, it is better to subscribe to a multi-dimensional model that integrates multiple causes of psychopathology and affirms that each cause comes to affect other causes over time. Uni-dimensional models alone are too simplistic to fully understand the etiology of something as complex as mental disorders.

Before introducing the main models subscribed to today, it is important to understand what a model is. In a general sense, a model is defined as a representation or imitation of an object (dictionary.com). Models help mental health professionals understand mental illness since disorders such as depression cannot be touched or experienced firsthand. To be considered distinct from other conditions, a mental illness must have its own set of symptoms. But as you will see, the individual does not have to present with the entire range of symptoms to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, avoidant personality disorder, or illness anxiety disorder. Five out of nine symptoms may be enough to diagnose a disorder, for example. There will be some variability in terms of what symptoms the afflicted displays, but in general all people with a specific mental disorder have symptoms from that group. We can also ask the patient probing questions, seek information from family members, examine medical records, and in time, organize and process all of this information to better understand the person’s condition and potential causes. Models aid us with doing all of this but we must be cautious to remember that the model is a starting point for the researcher, and due to this, determine what causes might be investigated, at the exclusion of other causes. Often times, proponents of a given model find themselves in disagreement with proponents of other models. All forget that there is no one model that completely explains human behavior, or in this case, abnormal behavior and so each model contributes in its own way. So what are the models we will examine in this chapter?

  • Biological – Includes genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain, the functioning of the nervous system, etc.
  • Psychological – includes learning, personality, stress, cognition, self-efficacy, and early life experiences. We will examine several perspectives that make up the psychological model to include psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic-existential.
  • Sociocultural – includes factors such as one’s gender, religious orientation, race, ethnicity, and culture, for example.


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2.1 Uni- vs. Multi-Dimensional Models by Washington State University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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