Unit 4 - Area of Study 2: What influences mental wellbeing?
Explain the concepts of mental health and mental illness including influences of risk and protective factors, apply a biopsychosocial approach to explain the development and management of specific phobia, and explain the psychological basis of strategies that contribute to mental wellbeing.
Examples of learning activities
Case study analysis of the development and management of specific phobia
At this stage, students would have completed areas of the course including: the continuum of mental health; characteristics of mental health; the 4P factor model (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective factors); the BPS (biological, psychological and social factors); as well as overall cumulative risk. Students are presented with a case study of an individual with specific phobia (refer to the case study in the learning activities related to Vicky’s phobia of dandelions as a further example to the case of Don’s claustrophobia provided below) that they are required to analyse.
Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.
Activity 1: Case study scenario
Students are provided with a case study of a person who has a specific phobia. For example:
"Donald (Don) is a 59-year-old male who works in a state government office as an accountant. He enjoys his work and the people he works with. He has worked for the government in this position, or similar positions, for the last 25 years. His salary is quite good and he has excellent benefits, however, recently he has been seriously considering retirement. In fact, he and his wife Barb, have been talking about going on a road trip in their campervan when he does. Don’s main reason for retiring, though, is that the whole accounting department has recently been consolidated from several different locations. This had been done to improve efficiency. For Don, the problem with this consolidation is that he has a significant fear of small, enclosed spaces such as elevators (claustrophobia). So, when his office first moved, Don tried to use the stairs to get to his office but he found this very difficult because of his arthritic left knee. The combination of his fear and his physical problem led to him beginning to dislike going to work. So much so that he would ask Barb to call in ‘sick’ for him, which she became really concerned about. Despite recognising that his fear is irrational and out of proportion to the actual dangers involved in elevator travel, Don is still unable to stop avoiding travelling on elevators. In fact, Don’s claustrophobia is something he has suffered from for a very long time. It seems his problems began when he was a young child and he was locked in his bedroom closet by his older brother. It was done as a prank, but Don became extremely fearful, his heart was racing and he felt out of breath. He had what he now recognises as being a panic attack. Despite pounding on the door and begging to be let out, his brother only released him an hour later. Ever since that event he remembers avoiding enclosed spaces of all types and even as a teenager he had to have a light on in his bedroom at night."
In small groups, students are provided a blank version of the 4P factor model and BPS table and asked to identify any contributing factors in relation to the development of the specific phobia in the case study.
4P factor model||
The Biopsychosocial (BPS) Approach|
Predisposing risk factors|| || || |
Precipitating risk factors|| || || |
Perpetuating risk factors|| || || |
Protective factors|| || || |
Activity 2: Discussion questions
- Determine where you think the individual in the case study sits on the mental health continuum. Justify your placement, based on your understanding of the distinction between stress, phobia and anxiety.
- Choose one relevant biological contributing factor to the individual’s phobia and discuss its potential role in the development of their phobia.
- Explain the role of classical conditioning in precipitating the individual’s phobia.
- Discuss the role of operant conditioning in perpetuating the individual’s phobia.
- Identify and explain any specific environmental triggers of the individual’s phobia.
Interventions and/or Management
- Suggest a biological intervention and explain how it might benefit the individual.
- Explain how CBT could be used as a psychological management intervention for the individual.
- Using the language of classical conditioning, explain the process that would be involved in using systematic desensitisation as a psychological intervention for the individual.
- Discuss the importance of involving the individual’s family/supporters as a part of their therapy.
- It is important that students gain practice at applying the 4P factor model and BPS to varying mental health case studies or scenarios. Initially, students may need guidance and could benefit from completing an initial analysis of a case study as a class or in small groups.