Credit points


Campus offering

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PSYC100 Foundations of Psychology and PSYC101 Applications of Psychology

Teaching organisation

3 contact hours per week over 12 weeks or equivalent.

Unit rationale, description and aim

A key area of research and practice within psychology is the domain of abnormal behaviour and psychological distress. Abnormal behaviour is therefore a fundamental topic within the broad body of knowledge of psychology.

This unit examines theory and research in the field of abnormal psychology and investigates contemporary understandings of the concept of abnormality. The unit covers diagnostic systems frequently used to classify disorders, methodologies used to research psychopathology, and presents models of aetiology in abnormal behaviour. The major mental disorders are introduced and their primary diagnostic features described. Treatment issues are also discussed insofar as they relate to aetiology.

The aim of this unit is to introduce and describe key concepts within abnormal psychology, including the classification, diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. This introduction is designed to highlight key theories and seminal research, thus providing an overview of current understandings of abnormal psychology.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - identify historical and modern concepts of normality, abnormality, psychopathology, deviance and mental illness (GA1, GA2, GA5);

LO2 - describe major theories and research in abnormal behaviour (GA4, GA5);

LO3 - explain the aetiology, diagnosis and treatment of the major mental disorders affecting emotional, social and behavioural function (GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5);

LO4 - recognise ethical issues and problems of diagnosis and treatment (GA1, GA2, GA3, GA5);

LO5 - communicate a basic understanding of psychopathology and its treatment (GA1, GA3, GA5, GA9);

LO6 - apply knowledge of psychology in a manner that is sensitive to the diversity of individuals, including ethnic, gender and cultural diversity (GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include: 

  • Definition and history of concepts of abnormality, mental illness and psychopathology  
  • Cultural and historical notions, models of psychopathology 
  • Formal and informal classification systems, common misconceptions and myths  
  • Models of and research in etiology 
  • Ethical and legislative frameworks (including privacy and human rights).  
  • Problems of childhood and adolescence.  
  • Major mental disorders e.g. schizophrenia; affective disorders; bipolar disorder, major depression, S.A.D.; eating disorders; obsessive compulsive disorders, phobias; sexual disorders; paraphilias, disorders of sexual desire; dissociative syndromes; fugue, post-traumatic stress; personality disorders; somatoform disorders, stress and illness; addictions; neurological disorders.  
  • Therapies in abnormal psychology and consumer and carer participation in the care of psychological disorders. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is taught face-to-face in lectures and tutorials. Students benefit from active participation in class and the opportunity to discuss the various issues that arise in the course of this unit, including some of the complexities associated with the conceptualisation and diagnosis of psychological disorders. Tutorial classes are structured to ensure active participation from all students, whereby students are expected to contribute to class discussions on a regular basis. This format provides opportunities for peer-led discussions and learning, in addition to the teaching provided by staff. These guided discussions are beneficial in assisting students to attain the learning outcomes of this unit.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit allows you to demonstrate your acquisition of knowledge, as well as the application of that knowledge. Recall of key knowledge concepts is assessed via multiple choice questions in the mid-semester and final exams. Short answer questions in those exams provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate your grasp of key concepts and your ability to synthesise information learnt throughout the course in meaningful ways. The critical thinking portfolio provides a valid and authentic learning and assessment opportunity as it utilises feature films depicting psychological disorders as a stimulus for you to apply your knowledge of abnormal psychology to “real-world” situations. Taken together, these assessment tasks facilitate the demonstration of each of the learning outcomes of this unit. In order to pass this unit, you must attempt all assessment tasks and achieve an aggregate score of at least 50%.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Critical thinking portfolio –  

provides you with an opportunity to make connections between course content and depictions of psychological disorders in a societal context, and to apply your knowledge of course content to a fictional client.


LO3, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA9

Mid-semester exam –  

assesses knowledge and understanding of course content


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA4, GA5

Final exam –  

assesses knowledge and understanding of course content


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA4, GA5

Representative texts and references

Barlow, D. H. & Durand, V. M. (2012). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage. 

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

Australian Psychological Society. (2012). Guidelines for the provision of psychological services for, and the conduct of psychological research with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. Ethical Guidelines (11th ed.), 7-14, Melbourne, Australia: Australian Psychological Society. 

Barlow, D. H. & Durand, V. M. (2012/2015). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage. 

Brown, R. (2001).  Australian Indigenous mental health.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 10, 33-41. 

Bloch, S. (2011). Understanding troubled minds: A guide to mental illness and its treatment. (2nd ed.). Victoria: Melbourne University Press. 

Brown, T. A., & Barlow, D.H. (2011). Casebook in abnormal psychology (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. 

Comer, R. J. (2009). Abnormal psychology  (7th Ed.). New York: Worth Publishers. Kearney, C.A. (2010). Casebook in childhood behaviour disorders (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. 

Oltmanns, T. F., & Emery, R. (2010). Abnormal psychology: International edition (6th Ed.). Pearson. 

Sue, D., Sue, D. W., & Sue, S. (2010). Understanding abnormal behavior (9th Ed.). Cengage Learning

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