PSYC 356 [split section]

Abnormal Psychology (PSYC 356) [Honors split section class] – Fall 2019

As a psychology minor, Abnormal Psychology was a class I was really looking forward to. This class covers the foundations of mental health problems, looking into how people develop them, how they can affect people, and how they can be treated. More than that, though, this class, led by Dr. Tim Ritzert, also discussed how we can be more understanding and sympathetic towards people who struggle with mental health problems.

The general public has a less-than-perfect view of people with mental health issues, and tend to misrepresent, mock, or villainize those dealing with these serious issues. Being able to discuss these issues in class, I’ve learned that a lot of this negative attitude comes simply from a lack of understanding regarding mental health issues. For example, a lot of people do not realize that alcoholism or drug abuse are mental health issues — specifically, Substance Abuse Disorder, which should be treated just as seriously as any other mental health issue.

Conversely, I also learned about conditions that are officially listed as disorders but have come under fire for being listed as such in recent years. Specifically, we discussed the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder. This diagnosis is given to many transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to allow them healthcare for their needs. However, it has brought a lot of stigma to the transgender community, as people see it as making being transgender a mental health issue that should be cured, not embraced. This was a really interesting discussion to have with the class, and I feel that I came out of this class with a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of mental health problems.

(Attached is an assignment from the class where I discuss the documentary Diagnosing Difference, a documentary made by and about transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. It’s a really interesting and well-made piece that I highly recommend.)



Individual Assignment 13 – Diagnosing Difference Reflection

M Heimburg

1. What was the most important thing your learned from watching the documentary?
The aspect of the narratives that stood out to me the most was how unique yet similar all of the people’s experiences were. Despite each having a different background and a different transition journey, they all had more or less similar views on important aspects of transgender life and issues, in particular how much the GID/gender dysphoria diagnosis impacts them on so many levels of their life. I had never really considered how frustrating and limiting being restricted by a diagnosis and prejudiced/uncooperative professionals can be.

2. In what ways did the DSM and the diagnosis of gender identity disorder (now called gender dysphoria) impact the lives and the experience of the people interviewed as part of the documentary?
Many of the individuals spoke about how the fact that GID/gender dysphoria is considered a psychological problem has had a severely negative impact on their lives. Having their identity be considered a problem is a terrible stigma to carry and can and does have severe impacts on the mental health of those diagnosed with it. Many spoke about how in order to receive medical treatment for their transition they had to first obtain a GID diagnosis, which involved “proving” that they were transgender to professionals who were not transgender themselves and often had very little understanding of gender-nonconformity.

3. What were some of the arguments made in the documentary related to whether the diagnostic category of GID/gender dysphoria should be in the DSM?
The main argument for why GID/gender dysphoria should be in the DSM was that having a diagnosis allows for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to more easily receive the medical treatment that many wish to receive, such as hormones and surgeries.
There were several arguments as to why GID/gender dysphoria should not be in the DSM. One, it should not be considered a psychological problem to be gender-nonconforming as it is not a problem with how one thinks/behaves but rather how society interacts with someone. Two, the focus should be not on making the diagnosis “better” but improving how professionals approach and work with transgender and gender-nonconforming people. And three, the diagnosis does not help the people who receive it in any way, aside from allowing them to receive medical treatments, which it is not (or should not be) necessary for.

4. What reactions did you have to the first-person narratives presented in the documentary?
I found the narratives very open and also familiar. I have several close friends/family members who are also transgender/gender-nonconforming. Although I’m very familiar with the stories of trans people of my generation it’s always interesting, refreshing, and sometimes heartbreaking to hear the stories of trans people of older generations. Something that stood out to me was just how far our society has come in treating and understanding trans people. Even as little as 10 years ago being transgender was something not as well understood by the general population as it is today.