News Karnataka
Monday, October 03 2022

Conduct Disorder: A need for effective treatment

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Children are growing in an advanced and unconventional way, unknown to the older generations, as technology and broader perspectives appear. With children learning and developing rapidly, the tendency to fall back, inculcate negative behaviour, and adapt to mental dysfunction due to environmental and genetic factors is quite possible in western countries. In India, however, the acknowledgment of such abnormal behaviour in children is less.

What is Conduct Disorder?

According to American Psychological Association (APA), “Conduct Disorder (CD) is characterised by behaviour that violates either the rights of others or major societal norms. These symptoms must be present for at least three months with one symptom having been present in the past six months.” CD can be diagnosed with children under the age of ten. CD is essentially a behavioural problem in children, where they are unusually aggressive and callous. They tend to break societal rules and regulations and often find an innate pleasure in doing so. These disturbing behaviours are evident and can be recorded. However, in India, the prevalence of CD is 11.13% (Indian Journal of Psychiatry).

What causes Conduct Disorder?

As a separate mental illness, conduct disorder came to be recognised in 1968. It was initially coined as ‘delinquency.’ Over the past 20 – 30 years, a detailed study of conduct disorder and its treatments have been made using theories like psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The causes of CD and ADHD overlapped, but presently, some clear distinctions have been made. The causes of CD can be genetic as well as environmental. Many CD cases have family relatives diagnosed with other mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, etc. Certain brain injuries (in parts that control emotions and speech) can partially cause CD. Environmental causes include dysfunctional families, violent, strict parents, traumatic experiences, and so on. Some psychological factors include a lack of value or morality system and an inconsistent belief system. Poverty, economic and social backwardness can also be essential factors.

Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

The symptoms of CD predominantly include violent behaviour with animals (in extreme cases, killing of the animal), delinquency, extreme aggression, truancy, tendency to conduct unreasonable revenge, and mostly anti-social behavior. The children exhibiting behaviours such as constant lying, turning a blind eye to genuine problems, showing interest in engaging in physical fights, exposing law breaking, and socially unacceptable behaviours also bear the chances to develop severe CD. They tend to have lesser retrospective skills; they don’t feel guilty about their actions. In the beginning, they show difficulties in learning and often have subtle innate anger towards authority figures, it might be just lending an ear to their words or following a simple instruction; they always find a way to oppose it. They lack emotional attachment; are found mostly isolated and don’t empathise with their peers and family. Ironically, they exert a sense of superiority in their aggressive behaviour but have very low self-esteem. Some display violent mental tortures towards peers and siblings and often tend to associate with people who bully others even to the extent of physically and sexually abusing that person. In severe cases, the child shows genuine interest in violent acts and prepares and plots the entire plan using weapons and destructive methods. They are caught performing theft, robbery, breaking into houses, setting something on fire, and so on. They can also be found vandalising and confidently denying any such actions when questioned.

Clinical psychology and Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder (symptoms and treatment) principally comes under the broader approach and perspective of clinical psychology. Some may argue that it can also fall under the purview of child developmental psychology and health psychology. But primarily, it is treated under the domain of clinical psychology. Most of us forget that some fundamentals of other disciplines are also incorporated under this branch. What do clinical psychologists do? Clinical psychologists can provide psychological evaluations, guidance for parents, and therapy for children who need it (Understand applied psychology, Nicky Hayes). Hence, clinical psychology is the practical form of abnormal psychology or the applied form of abnormal psychology. There are some different opinions that CD comes under the purview of health psychology, but we need to understand the context; since after the emergence of the problem, it’ll be in the domain of clinical psychology. That said, there’s a merge of clinical methods in the approach of health psychology called clinical health psychology. Most researchers tend to find common ground in this linkage.

Some clinical psychologists also assimilate psychoeducational practices to treat problems chiefly concerned with school adjustments and aggressive behavioural problems. Clinical psychologists follow a disciplined, rigorous, well-detailed method of diagnosing and treating CD. That said, there are arguments that CD is an untreatable disorder since research studies prove so, even after the application of various therapies such as CBT and multisystemic therapy. They prove to be working only for a short period; thus, in the long wrong, they are inefficient. Accordingly, it is essential in diagnosing and giving effective treatment of CD, thus bringing a change in approach and an understanding of CD. By providing apt treatments and therapies, the CD can also be cured and be known. In India, with the help of clinical psychology, Conduct Disorder will also be known and comprehended, with much importance that is usually (socially) given to mood disorders.


Internet Resources:



Understanding Applied psychology – Nicky Hayes

Developmental psychology – Punam Singh

Child psychology and child development – Charles & E. Skinner

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Siri Shekar

The author is a student reporter who is also pursuing Psychology and English Literature. A wanderer searching for faces that inspire an optimistic place about the world, she hunts for different human experiences, not just leads for a story.

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