During the 19th and 20th centuries, four major themes in psychology developed: 1) biological discoveries, 2) classification system for mental disorders, 3) the emergence of psychological causations and views 4) experimental and research psychology.
The first major breakthrough in biological treatment of mental illness was the discovery that a form of paresis was caused by syphilis. This discovery boded well for the discovery of more biological treatments for other illnesses. Later discoveries showed deterioration of the brain led to senility and that some disorders could be caused by exposure to toxic substances. Biological treatments also had some mishaps – such as surgical removal of body parts including tonsils, part of the colon, gonads, and the frontal lobe of the brain.
Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, pioneered classification of mental illnesses, and his system became the forerunner to the DSM.
The Nancy school began a movement exploring psychological causations of mental illness. Two scientists in Nancy, France, discovered that some of the traits observed in hysteria – psychological paralysis, blindness, deafness, and pain – could be introduced in healthy patients through hypnosis. These symptoms could also be removed by hypnosis. Therefore, the Nancy school believed that hysteria, and later other disorders, were a form of self-hypnosis. Jean Charcot, a French neurologist, disagreed with the Nancy School. His research suggested that mental disorders were caused by brain degeneration. Toward the end of the 19th century, it was accepted that mental disorders could have a psychological basis, biological basis, or both.
Sigmund Freud was a student of Charcot, but later leant more towards the psychological causations mental illness. Freud discovered that if patients were encouraged to discuss their problems under hypnosis, they felt considerable emotional release. The patients, upon awakening, made no connection between their problems and their disorder. This led to the discovery of the unconscious mind. Freud also discovered that free-association and dream analysis had the same cathartic effect on his patients.
By the first decade of the 20th century clinical psychology labs, which performed experiments on causes and treatments of mental illness, were on the rise. Soon, the behavioral perspective developed. This perspective emphasized the role of learning in disorders. It began with Ivan Pavlov’s serendipitous discovery that he could condition dogs to salivate upon the ringing of a bell. Watson used Pavlov’s discovery to develop behaviorism – the belief that humans gain personalities through changes in their environments. Watson believed that he could train a child to become anyone he wanted the child to become simply by creating the right environment. (Stephen Pinker’s argument against this belief is discussed in my review of The Blank Slate.)
B. F. Skinner developed his own form of behaviorism in which consequences of behavior influenced subsequent behavior. This type of learning was named “operant conditioning.” For example, positive conditioning occurs when someone is rewarded for a behavior, such as when we give a treat to a potty-training child who has successfully used the toilet. Negative conditioning occurs when a child receives a shock when sticking his finger into an electrical outlet.
And thus abruptly ended Chapter 2 – after a long list of names and dates that the book thought were important for us to remember.
This is a series of posts summarizing what I’m learning in my Abnormal Psychology course. Much of the information provided comes from reading my James N. Butcher’s textbook Abnormal Psychology. To read the other posts, follow these links:
The Definition of Abnormal
A History of Abnormal Psychology
Abnormal Psychology in Contemporary Society
Contemporary Viewpoints on Treating Mental Illness – Biology
Contemporary Viewpoints on Treating Mental Illness – Psychology
Frontline: New Asylums
Brave New Films: This is Crazy
Clinical Mental Health Diagnosis: Biological Assessment
Clinical Mental Health Diagnosis: Psychological Assessment
Does the DSM Encourage Overmedication?
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – The Basics
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Hoarding and Body Dysmorphic Disorders
Depression – an Overview
Personality Disorders – Clusters and Dimensions
Personality Disorders – Cluster A
Personality Disorders – Cluster B
Personality Disorders – Cluster C
Biological Effects of Stress on Your Body
Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders
Borderline Personality Disorder
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Gender Dysphoria – Homosexuality and Transgender
Bipolar Disorder – The Basics
Suicide – An Overview
2 thoughts on “A History of Abnormal Psychology”
This is interesting stuff indeed.
As it combines history, psychology and science it is particularly interesting to me. It is striking how for so many years smart people grappled with mental illness with ineffectual results.
Yes, it is interesting how difficult it was to come up with a realistic way to treat mental illness – I don't think we've quite figured it out to this day. Right now, I'm glad that we've got a good combination of psychosocial and medical treatments.