For this exercise I divide the class into small groups of three to seven students. I tell them that they will be reading descriptions of four people, and that it will be the group's task to rate each person according to a scale I will be giving them. Some of the people are experiencing obvious psychological problems, others less so. After the groups reach their decisions, I lead the class in a discussion of the four "cases" and the various issues in judging the severity of a psychological problem.
The four descriptions are based on real people, so during our class discussions I can provide more details about each "case." You might want to come up with your own case descriptions.
Below is the text from the handout I give to the class for this exercise. If you have Adobe's Acrobat, here is the pdf file that contains the fully formatted handout I use in class.
Bob is a very intelligent, 25 year old member of a religious organization that is based on Buddhism. Bob's working for this organization caused considerable conflict between him and his parents, who are devout Catholics. Recently Bob experiences acute spells of nausea and fatigue that prevent him from working and which have forced him to return home to live with his parents. Various medical tests are being conducted, but as yet no physical causes of his problems have been found.
Shades of Abnormality
Jim was vice president of the freshman class at a local college and played on the school's football team. Later that year he dropped out of these activities and gradually became more and more withdrawn from friends and family. Neglecting to shave and shower, he began to look dirty and unhealthy. He spent most of his time alone in his room and sometimes complained to his parents that he heard voices in the curtains and in the closet. In his sophomore year he dropped out of school entirely. With increasing anxiety and agitation, he began to worry that the "Nazis" were plotting to kill his family and kidnap him.
Mary is a 30 year old musician who is very dedicated and successful in her work as a teacher in a local high school and as a part-time member of local musical groups. Since her marriage five years ago, which ended in divorce after six months, she has dated very few men. She often worries that her time is "running out" for establishing a good relationship with a man, getting married, and raising a family. Her friends tell her that she gets way too anxious around men, and that she needs to relax a little in general.
Larry, a homosexual who has lived for three years with a man he met in graduate school, works as a psychologist in a large hospital. Although competent in his work, he often feels strained by the pressures of his demanding position. An added source of tension on the job is his not being able to confide in all his co-workers about his private life. Most of his leisure activities are with good friends who belong to the gay subculture.
RATE each of these people using the following scale:1 = Basically O.K. Psychotherapy is not necessary.
2 = Mild disturbance. Psychotherapy should be considered.
3 = Significant disturbance. Psychotherapy is definitely required.
4 = Severe disturbance. Hospitalize!