Psychology course name change reflects fields evolving language

The BW psychology department renamed the course PSY-302 from “abnormal psychology” to “psychological disorders” reflecting a change made in one of the oldest American Psychology Association journals.


Kathryn Raubolt, The Exponent

Home to the Department of Psychology, Malicky Center is where students are currently taking PSY-302.

Starting this semester, the class PSY-302 Abnormal Psychology has been renamed and cataloged as “psychological disorders” in a move to reflect new and changing terminology within the psychological field.

The change was discussed by the Department of Psychology an d held unanimous support, leading to the new name for the course.

Brian Thomas, chair of the psychology department, said that the new name was partly in response to a major change that occurred in 2021 and 2022 within the American Psychological Association.

One of the oldest APA journals, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, recently changed its name to the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science after 115 years.

The new name for the journal began with the January 2022 issue, and the news spread worldwide, being picked up by most mainstream news outlets, according to Thomas.

Universities nationwide have been moving away from the term “abnormal psychology” within their course names and offerings over the recent years, with BW being a recent addition to the movement.

The course holds the same catalog number and similar content but has a few changes to help further a more positive conversation around the topic.

“The course content and learning outcomes will remain largely the same but with additional care and emphasis on how we characterize and talk about individual differences in how people think, feel, and act,” Thomas said. “The term ‘abnormal’ is no longer used in the statistical sense of being outside the fat part of the bell curve and has taken on more negative connotations over time, which do not reflect the objectivity that any good science should hold as a core value.”

Students within the department pursuing a major or a minor in psychology were informed in one of the routine emails created by Thomas and sent out by the admin specialist, Barbie Chapin.

Thomas shared that he hopes the psychological field continues to change and grow, contributing positively to the human race.

“My hope is that the field will always reflect on our shared history, the good and the bad, and be ready to change when necessary,” Thomas said. “I believe that most, may be even all of the greatest challenges that we face as a species are problems that Psychological Science can play a role in overcoming.”

Thomas further emphasized that names matter and changing the course name is a step towards creating a department and environment that continues to adapt and change with the field and time.

“In my opinion, words, and names, in this case, matter, and that it is our obligation to take every opportunity to provide up-to-date training,” Thomas said. “Part of that means creating a learning environment where we help each other adapt to emerging trends in the way we think and talk about the entire, fascinating, wonderful diversity of the human experience.”