The resolution to help individuals suffering from psychological distress did not start with the field of psychology. Understanding and supporting individuals suffering from psychological disorders was addressed by other institutions before the emergence of psychology as a profession. In early times, religious groups, clergy, and noble physicians in the society treated mental illness. The treatment of mental health was mainly carried out by religious organizations. Their concept of treatment was based in demonology. They believed mental disorders were due to evil forces. Early writings based on Old Testament viewed mental disorders as a form of punishment by God.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the causes and treatment of mental illness were explained by the church. Disturbed behaviour, such as psychosis (e.g., hallucinations, delusions), were interpreted as being possessed by the devil, and treatment was done through exorcisms.
The during the Greek period, Ancient Greeks viewed mental disorders in terms of a magical and religious frame of reference. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that the supreme authority to control both health and illness was in the hands of Greek gods. Philosophers like Aristotle looked beyond these myths and explored biological, psychological, and social causes of mental disorders. Aristotle maintained that expressions like joy, fear, and anger can impact the functioning of the human body.
During the period of Middle Ages (500â€“1450 AD), the relationship between health and sickness, and mind and body resurfaced. Events were discussed in terms of supernatural influences. Matters related to illness were described in terms of sins and punishment, and demons and witches. The notion of healing and treatment once again become a spiritual subject rather than a medical issue. Not everyone regarded such matters as a sign of mental illness. Scholars like Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that there are theological and scientific reasons for atypical behaviour. Nicholas Ores-me, a noted philosopher of the Middle Ages, stated that atypical behaviours were due to illnesses such as â€œmelancholyâ€ (known as depression).
The Renaissance and the Nineteenth Century
During the Renaissance, interest in physical and medical subjects emerged. Concepts related to spiritual and religious matters were discarded. The relationship between mind and body was called unscientific in nature. Scholars like RenÃ© Descartes argued that mind and body were separate entities. Biological explanations emerged to explain the treatment of abnormal behaviour. In the early 1500s and 1800s, treatment of disorders started in places like psychiatric hospitals and asylums. At such places, patients were treated inhumanely, and little care was offered.
The nineteenth century witnessed numerous advances in the field of mental and physical illnesses. These developments led to the sophisticated understanding of the relationship between the mind and body in terms of health and sickness. Phillipe Pinel, one of the noted physicians of the nineteenth century, improved the living conditions and treatment approaches used by psychiatric hospitals and mental asylums. In 1793, Pinel was appointed as chief physician to Bicetre (the menâ€™s asylum) in Paris. He was disturbed to see the method of treatment offered in the asylum. Patients were restrained to the walls by chains. He removed the chains of those patients who responded favourably. He suggested treating patients humanely. In 1795, Pinel joined Le Salpetriere (a female asylum); there, he fired the staff members who were cruel in nature and replaced them with workers who were kind and compassionate. Under Pinel, the conditions of psychiatric hospitals and asylums were transformed. His method of treatment were adopted all across Europe.
The Emergence of Clinical Psychology within the Field of Psychology
The origin of psychology started with the establishment of Wilhelm Wundtâ€™s laboratory in Germany in the mid 1800s. Wundt was studying perception. He was a trained philosopher and conducted research studies in his laboratory to observe human sensation and perception under controlled conditions. Studies conducted by Wundt impacted American Psychology and received a large number of Americans for doctoral degrees. These students were trained at University of Leipzig.
Among the students who worked under Wilhelm Wundt was a young American named Lightner Witmer. After receiving his degree, Witmer returned to the United States and started working in the psychology department of the University of Pennsylvania and continued his research on perception.
Witmerâ€™s work took a different a turn in the spring of 1896. He was approached by a school teacher who asked for Witmerâ€™s assistance in working with a fourteen-year-old boy with severe difficulty in writing and recognizing words.
Witmer agreed to offer assistance and did a systematic evaluation of the boyâ€™s problem. During treatment, Witmer developed intensive treatment plans to improve the writing and reading skills of the boy. This case caused Witmer to open the first psychology clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896 to treat children suffering from learning issues. He was credited for founding a new field of psychology with the goal of helping people and invented the term clinical psychology to define this new field.
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