Journey of Clinical Psychology

February 24, 2014

Psychology is a vast and diverse field of study that has roots beginning in philosophy.  It developed from theories and ideas conjured up by philosophers, but with no evidence to prove any of them true.  Over time, philosophers became intrigued at how there existed so many theories, but all were unproven and began to set out to find which theory could be proven true.  These actions helped develop psychology into a scientific study.  This new science that evolved has now branched out to include many different areas and approaches of studying human behavior and the mind.  Before psychology became a science, before philosophy became the gateway to psychology, and before philosophy really existed, mental illness was already affecting humans.  Mental illness is defined as a mental or behavior deficiency which warrants psychiatric intervention (Mental, 2009).   One must delve into the history of psychological conceptualizations and treatments of mental illness in order to understand the approaches taken today.


Ancient Civilization

Mental illness and treatment can be dated back to the Neolithic days, around 5000 BCE, the days of the primitive humans (Foerschner, 2010).  Mental illness, in all ancient civilizations, was believed to be the wrath of a God who allowed spiritual or demonic possession of a person’s body as punishment for their transgressions (Foerschner, 2010).  These supernatural phenomena did not go unnoticed, and the treatment, which was thought to be the cure, was just as harsh.  A procedure in which a hole was chipped into the skull was thought to allow the evil spirits to escape from the individuals mind, healing them of their insanity (Foerschner, 2010).   This procedure is known as trephining and was also used for skull fractures and to cure migraines by releasing pressure from the brain, however, primitive skulls show healing implicating that some survived the procedure and lived longer lives (Foerschner, 2010).  The Mesopotamians, also carried strong religious beliefs and attempted to use exorcisms, prayer and other religious intonations to draw the evil spirit out, just as the Hebrew priests used their special connection with God to cure the disease (Foerschner, 2010).  Other cultures viewed the mentally ill as nuisances and morally deficient and were not treated, but punished with death, a lot of times being burned at the stake or drowned as a witch (Goodwin, 2008).  Being such a nuisance was an acceptable cause for the mentally ill to be chained and locked away from society for life (Goodwin, 2008).  Adversely, when behaviors were thought to be of a mystic possession, the person was deemed as sacred and was treated in the highest regard by the Greeks, who built temples in remote areas for the person accommodating them with the luxuries of life and special prayer and music from priests (Millon, 2004).


Middle Ages

Hippocrates, a Greek physician, developed his own theory about mental illness.  He disagreed with the previous and theorized that mental illness was naturally occurring within the pathology of the brain (Foerschner, 2010).  He believed, through the help of Galen that the human body operated in wellness off the balance of four fluids in the body:  Phlegm, blood, bile, and black bile (Foerschner, 2010).  The combinations of these fluids were attributed to each person’s personality, so if on was off at any time, it reflected in the personality of the individual (Foerschner, 2010).  In order to bring the fluids back in balance and cure the abnormal mental state, laxatives, emetics, and leech bleedings were performed along with different system cleanses and techniques to induce vomiting (Foerschner, 2010).  Additionally, bloodletting, a procedure of extracting blood from veins or forehead in order to draw out the evil spirits, and specialized diets were used as well (Foerschner, 2010).  It was during the medieval times that the mentally ill began to receive compassion and intervention, but the extent of treatment depended on the family social and financial status (Goodwin, 2008).


The Renaissance was a period dedicated to moving from the dark ages to a more enlightened period of learning and development for people.  Naturally, all the dark of the world did not disappear, neither did mental illness.  It was believed that the mentally ill were witches filled with satanic forces sent by God to punish sinners (Millon, 2004).   The first step in treatment was for religious leaders to get the “possessed” to admit they were witches so they could be taken into custody and endure the torture ahead (Millon, 2004).  Those who refused to admit were thought to be making excuses in order for the demons to escape punishment (Millon, 2004).  Torture also became a means to get the person to admit their guilt and confess being possessed at which point they were burned at the stake, beheaded, or strangled to death (Millon, 2004).  Those who admitted that they were mentally unstable began undergoing treatments of exorcism by Catholic priests, however, the Protestants were treated with prayer and fasting as a release of the evil that overtook their mind (Millon, 2004).  Late in the eighteenth century is when things began to change with mental illness treatment through the effort of Philippe Pinel who unchained the mentally ill and began implanting moral treatments to the mentally ill (Goodwin, 2008).  He took an enlightened approach to the mentally ill treatment allowing for better living conditions, food, and hygiene while using behavior modification in an attempt to make “normal” the “abnormal” life of those suffering from mental illness (Goodwin, 2008).  William Tuke took kindly to Pinel’s approach and created a retreat home for the mentally insane incorporating Pinel’s treatment into the asylum (Goodwin, 2008).  Benjamin Rush is recognized for his effort in using the scientific approach in the treatment of mental illness (Goodwin, 2008).  Rush believed that mental illness was caused by hypertension and removing the bad blood from the person would stabilize their mental state (Goodwin, 2008).  He also believed that the mentally ill could benefit from therapy and developed a board which spun a patient around rapidly causing the redistribution of blood to the brain (Goodwin, 2008).  Additionally, he thought reducing movement would slow a person’s pulse and mellow the mind, which brought him to develop a tranquilizer chair containing restraints that held the patient still while a box was placed over the heads forcing the mind to enter a tranquil state (Goodwin, 2008).


The majority of ideas and treatments discussed seem harsh, cruel and inhumane by today’s standards, however, during the time periods in which these conditions occurred, they were considered to be the only way to resolve the mental illnesses engulfing the people in their society.  These ideas and treatments led to the development of psychoanalysis, a method founded by Sigmund Freud used to explore repressed emotions and experiences through the use of techniques he developed in order to delve deeper into patients mind (psychoanalysis, 2014).  Freud believed that people could be cured of mental illness simply by making unconscious thoughts and emotions conscious (McLeod, 2007).  Freud believed that psychological issues begin in the unconscious mind and symptoms of mental illness are caused by hidden experiences from development or trauma (McLeod, 2007).  Treatment of the mentally ill in Freud’s office meant the patient lied on the couch, fully relaxed, and spoke about dreams and memories to Freud who was sitting behind the patient taking notes (McLeod, 2007).  The development of psychoanalysis began while Freud was studying with John Breuer and watched as Breuer treated a patient, Anna, who suffered from hysteria and fluctuating symptoms (Goodwin, 2008).   Breuer had Anna remember back to the first experience she had with her symptoms, giving her emotional release, but it was only a temporary solution and Anna found herself in and out of asylums a few times after her treatment with Breuer (Goodwin, 2008).  This experience assisted Freud in developing his own theory about hysteria:  Memories of traumatic events may be repressed, however they still persuade behavior of hysteria in a person and the symptoms can be alleviated through catharsis (Goodwin, 2008).  This thought led him to develop free association, which allowed the patient to talk freely about anything they chose; if resistance was demonstrated at any point, he knew that topic needed to be looked into more (McLeod, 2007).


John Watson, the founder of behaviorism, theorized that behavior can be changed (Kowalski, 2011).  Behaviorists believe that behavior stems from environmental factors (Kowalski, 2011).  Watson demonstrated behavior changes through operant and classical conditioning.  Through operant conditioning, learning behavior is obtained through rewards and punishment (Kowalski, 2011).  A person who receives praise for a certain behavior will be more likely to continue the behavior than the person who is scolded for that same behavior.  Through classical conditioning, a stimulus is introduced at the same time as behavior, once the stimulus is repeated with the behavior a few times, the person links the stimulus with the behavior, turning it into an automatic response on an unconscious level (Kowalski, 2011).   A child hears the sound of a bag of chips and is given a chip, the same sound and chip is given a few more times.  Later, that same sound alerts the child to come and retrieve the chip since the sound is now associated with a chip.  Another behaviorist theory is functionalism which was founded by William James (Kowalski, 2011).

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is a prime example of how things evolve over time.  Originally, psychology was a bunch of thoughts and opinions that were never proven, until the theorists became frustrated at not finding acceptable answers.  In order to prove theories true, psychology needed to take on the role of an actual science in which the theories could be tested and proven.  When society began to be bothered by a person appearing to act “abnormally” and portraying characteristics of being demonically possessed, condemnation and torture became an acceptable form of treatment.  Eventually, a new theory emerged that these “abnormal” people could be treated and cured.  The treatment has made great strides in its evolution beginning with death and ending in life.  Today, clinical psychology is vital to society’s mental health.  Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat all mental disorders (Goodwin, 200).    Through a combination of all the different theories and specialty areas of psychology, a clinical psychologist can assist a person through the healing process of mental illness.




Foerschner, A. M. (2010). “The History of Mental Illness: From ‘Skull Drills’ to ‘Happy Pills’.” Student Pulse, 2(09). Retrieved from http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=283


Goodwin, C. J. (2008). A History of Modern Psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


McLeod, S. A. (2007). Psychoanalysis. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/psychoanalysis.html


Mental illness. (2009). In The Penguin dictionary of psychology. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/content/entry/penguinpsyc/mental_illness/0


Millon, T. (2004). Masters of the mind: Exploring the story of mental illness from ancient times to the new millennium. John Wiley & Sons.


psychoanalysis. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/psychoanalysis


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