Historical Perspectives in psychology

What is psychology?

Before looking too deeply into the history of psychology a word or two is needed about what psychology is.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology (Andrew M. Colman, editor, Oxford, 2001) psychology is "The study of the nature, functions and phenomena of behaviour and mental experience."

The etymology of the word is that it comes from the combination of two Greek words, psyche meaning soul or mind, and logos meaning word, discourse or reason.

The English word psychology was first used in the book by Steven Blankaart The Physical Dictionary: Wherein the terms of Anatomy, the names and causes of Diseases, chyrugical Instruments and their Use; are accurately Describ'd , published in 1693.

Wikipedia defines the subject as "the science of mind and behavior."

The Wikipedia article further states that the "immediate goal is to understand humanity by both discovering general principles and exploring specific cases, and its ultimate aim is to benefit society."

Since the dawn of civilisation people have been interested to understand thought and behaviour with the purpose of improving both.

The other aspect of psychology which has been of concern to thinkers is psychological problems and the ways in which people have found it difficult to deal with society and the demands placed on them, for conformity or specific ways of thinking.

The attempted answers to all of the questions that these issues raised for thinkers was usually subsumed under either philosophy or religion. In the west especially thinking about humans and their particular place in nature was the subject of speculation by many of the Greek philosophers.

Since 1879, when psychologist Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory to study psychology scientifically, psychology has been seen as a scientific discipline on its own.

Since then psychology has developed in three major streams. These are, with some sub-divisions, psycho-analysis, behaviourism and third-stream or humanistic psychology.

In addition, even within these three broad streams, there is a division between psychology and psychiatry, even though there is considerable overlap.

The afore-mentioned Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines psychiatry as the "branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, classification, treatment and prevention of mental disorders."

Loosely one can say that psychology is focussed on "talk therapy" while psychiatry focusses more on pharmaceutical interventions, though this is not at all "hard-and-fast." Psychiatrists do engage in discussion and talking to their clients, and psychologists do occasionally resort to pharmaceuticals.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Freud. Image from WikipediaFreud's sofa. Image: WikipediaFreud's model. Image from the website of George BoerreeTitle page of the first edition of "Interpretation of Dreams"
Freud. Image from Wikipedia
Freud. Image from Wikipedia
Freud's sofa. Image: Wikipedia
Freud's sofa. Image: Wikipedia
Freud's model. Image from the website of George Boerree
Freud's model. Image from the website of George Boerree
Title page of the first edition of "Interpretation of Dreams"
Title page of the first edition of "Interpretation of Dreams"

Freud and the psychoanalytic approach

Three great, and largely reductionist, thinkers have dominated modern thought since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848: Charles Darwin in the field of biology with the publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species ; Karl Marx in the field of economics and politics with the publication in 1867 of the first volume of Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie ; and Sigmund Freud in the field of psychology with his 1895 publication Studies on Hysteria .

While Studies on Hysteria was an important beginning, Freud's theories really began to take shape with his next major work, The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung) , published in 1900, in which he introduced perhaps his most famous and most important contribution to psychology, the concept of the sub-conscious.

Also introduced in this work is Freud's concept of the "Oedipus Complex" which he would develop more fully later, especially in the seminal 1905 work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

Along with his rather more speculative writings Freud was always involved in helping clients through the practice of psychoanalysis. Indeed all his writings really were treatises on how to help clients deal with psychological issues in their lives.

The analytic approach famously used a couch on which the analysand (the client) lay while the analyst (the psychologist) sat behind the analysand's head, out of sight, while the analysand would speak, freely associating ideas. The analyst would listen and make occasional interventions, usually tentative theories about what the analysand was saying.

Psychoanalysis developed as Freud worked with clients and discussed his ideas with a group of people who gathered around him in his hometown of Vienna. This group included another great figure of psychology who would later develop his own rather different ideas, the Swiss Carl Gustav Jung.

As the psychoanalytic approach developed it came to have three main components, which can be summarised as:

  1. a method of investigation of the mind and the way one thinks;
  2. a systematized set of theories about human behavior;
  3. a method of treatment of psychological or emotional illness.

In recent years Freud's theories have come under considerable attack. Even some psychoanalysts have rebelled against his theories. Nevertheless his place as the "father" of modern psychotherapy is still secure. Without the theoretical breakthroughs he made modern psychology would be unthinkable.

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One of the many dogs Pavlov used in his experiments, Pavlov Museum Ryazan, Russia. Note the saliva catch container and tube surgically implanted in the dog's muzzle.  Image from WikipediaIvan Pavlov. Image from WikipediaSkinner at Harvard c 1950. Image from Wikipedia
One of the many dogs Pavlov used in his experiments, Pavlov Museum Ryazan, Russia. Note the saliva catch container and tube surgically implanted in the dog's muzzle.  Image from Wikipedia
One of the many dogs Pavlov used in his experiments, Pavlov Museum Ryazan, Russia. Note the saliva catch container and tube surgically implanted in the dog's muzzle. Image from Wikipedia
Ivan Pavlov. Image from Wikipedia
Ivan Pavlov. Image from Wikipedia
Skinner at Harvard c 1950. Image from Wikipedia
Skinner at Harvard c 1950. Image from Wikipedia

Pavlov and Skinner - the behaviourist approach

Around the same time that Freud was starting out on his journey of observation and deduction another doctor was beginning a study of the behaviour of dogs.

Ivan Pavlov was in fact primarily interested in physiology and was looking into the physiology of reflex actions in dogs when he noticed that the dogs began to salivate before being offered food. He soon connected the salivation to the ringing of a bell, and thus was born the idea of the conditioned reflex - a specific response to a specific stimulus.

Pavlov himself was not necessarily a psychological behaviourist - it took US-based psychologist J.B. Watson to pick up on Pavolov's ideas and apply them to psychology.

In 1913 he published an article entitled "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It" which has come to be known as the "Behaviorist Manifesto". The introduction to the article laid out most of the ideas on which the behaviourist approach is based:

Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist's total scheme of investigation.

Whereas Watson insisted that only behaviour could be a valid study for psychology, and labelled thoughts and feelings as "epiphenomena" which could not be studied scientifically, B.F. Skinner included thoughts and feelings as behaviours, thus taking a somewhat less reductionist view than Watson.

Skinner introduced the concept of "operant conditioning" as a development of "classical conditioning" proposed by Pavlov and Watson. Operant conditioning focuses on voluntary activities as opposed to the reflexes which are the focus of classical conditioning, though this is a huge generalisation and over-simplification of the ideas involved.

Many learning systems and theories have developed from Skinner's ideas, for example, the whole programmed learning approach is based on operant conditioning.

The concept of "past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour" is distinctly Skinnerian.


The "Third Way" - humanistic psychology

Soon after the end of World War II some psychologists were becoming dissatisfied with the essentially mechanistic approach of both psychoanalysis and behaviourism. Both of these approaches were essentially reductionist, reducing explanations of human behaviour to single factors.

For many psychologists this approach was a disservice to the complexities and depth of human beings, who felt that neither psychoanalysis nor behaviourism was adequate as an explanatory theory nor as a practice that could deal appropriately with what humans were or could become.

A leading figure in this emerging movement was Abraham Maslow, who in 1957 and 1958 invited fellow-psychologists to two conferences in Detroit at which themes such as self, self-actualization, health, creativity, intrinsic nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning were discussed.

Maslow is perhaps best known to most people as the developer of the "Hierarchy of Needs" but that is far from his only contribution to the study and understanding of what it means to be human. Another important concept he developed is that of "self-actualisation."

The changing focus of what psychology could be about is perhaps epitomised in this 1954 quote by the founder of the "person-centred" approach, Carl Rogers:

"When a person comes to me, troubled by his unique combination of difficulties, I have found it most worth while to try to create a relationship with him in which he is safe and free. It is my purpose to understand the way he feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere of freedom in which he can move in his thinking and feeling and being, in any direction he desires."

The difference both psychoanalysis and behaviourism is clear. The focus shifts from the theoretical to the immediate, from the psychologist to the person with whom the psychologist interacts as a person, not as a "subconscious" or a pre-conceived set of behaviours.

Having said that, it is also true that humanistic psychologists do not throw the baby out with the bathwater! The work of the humanistic psychologists builds on the understanding of human beings that has been developed by the psychoanalysts and the behaviourists. They do not take these as the last words on the matter, but as essential theoretical background.

The focus of the humanistic approach is on the potential of the individual and, by extension, the groups of which all individuals are part. Again a quote from Rogers, this time from 1972, puts this clearly:

"... I have found that if I can help bring about a climate marked by genuineness, prizing and understanding, then exciting things happen. Persons and groups in such a climate move awa from rigidity towards flexibility, away from static living towad process living, away from dependence toward autonomy, away from defensiveness toward self-acceptance, away from being predictable toward an unpredictable creativity. They exhibit living proof of an actualizing tendency."



The historical perspective

It would seem that no one perspective will ever have the full picture because it is just that - a perspective. Historically from the earliest times we have been concerned with questions about who we are, what we are, what our purpose and direction in life should be. Philosophers and sages have had their views and some resonate with one person, others resonate with another.

For each of us our task is to become more human, and that task involves always working for a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. This will involve also understanding both the psyche and our behaviour.

To quote the great Chinese sage Lao Tse:

It is as though he listened

and such listening as his enfolds us in a silence

in which at last we begin to hear

what we are meant to be.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 47 comments

jandee 5 years ago

'for my part I know nothing with any certainty,but the sight of the stars makes me dream'

Vincent van Gogh

Hello Tony,

must get 'Karls' books out now! You certainly keep one on ones toes !!,jandee


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Maxine - thanks for the kind words. Appreciate your visit. Enjoy the reading!

Love and peace

Tony


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

My experience,though in laymans terms,compared to this insightful and well defined Hub,tonymac,the psychologist first proceeds to calm a commonly and initialy panicked condition,then tries to focus the client with coping skills,which can be discussion,art therapy,or mabey keeping a journal.Then moving the client towards a set of goals,such as even as far as getting this person into school,or training for a desired job,or just a place to live,away from an unhealthy prior enviroment.

This said,I think there is not as much overlap between psychiatry and psychology as I personaly have analysed,as a pstchiatrist will more often than not defer the above mentioned,and may take limited measures to calm a patient,then treat with medication,if needed;)


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Very good post Tony. I'm a case study myself. God bless BrotherMan!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Acer - thanks, friend! Appreciate your addition to the discussion very much.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

You too, Micky? Man, I thought I had it covered! Thanks for stopping by, buddy, you are always most welcome!

Love and peace

Tony


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

A great read and so well written! Your hubs are always so interesting and well researched. I never get tired of reading your work so please keep them coming by.

Thanks for sharing and take care Tony.


DavePrice profile image

DavePrice 5 years ago from Sugar Grove, Ill

Very well written Tony, as excellent of a perspective as I have ever seen. I have been interested in the subject for a couple decades. As a Christian, my endpoint view has become that while psychology and psychiatry have indeed perfected the study of the mind of man, they still are left without the answer to its ills. Only God knows the mind of man. If one, I think correctly, allows the two disciplines to assist in the discovery of the problem, it is a much simpler quest to allow God to provide the answer. Always a pleasure to read you, sir.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago

Nice summation, tony. I like how you begin with a very broad, general sense of what psychology is, then begin to show how it evolved over time - without going off on a lot of tangents, then explain how we all can use these concepts for our own growth and benefit. I would love to spend a day inside your brain. It sounds like a very orderly place.


SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 5 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

Incredible quick reference. Thank you. I reminds me of a graduate class I took, "Theories of Psychology." I thought I had left that behind. The dog said to his friend, "Look at what I can make Pavlov do, as soon as I start drooling, he will pick up his little book and start writing."


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

This is certainly my favorite subject. I wish ‘they’ could teach basic elementary ‘human behavior’ already in school. How wonderful will it be when people could start with the process of understanding oneself and others at an early stage of his life? A sillabus, covering basic human behavior, can in my mind easily be acquired for children. I have to emphasize Carl Rogers (one of my favorites): ".... It is my purpose to understand the way [a person] feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere of freedom in which he can move in his thinking and feeling and being, in any direction he desires."

Thank you, Tony, for the energy and time you’ve spent on this excellent hub.


BeatsMe profile image

BeatsMe 5 years ago

Gotta luv Wikipedia, they made everything so simple. lol.

I think psychology, psychiatry, behavioral science and anything related to it is very complicated. Even the brightest minds couldn't explain them fully, I guess. And trying to study those theories can be confusing. 8-)


ralwus 5 years ago

We've come a long ways in this field haven't we? Great write Tony. LOL @ Micky Dee.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is a great,well researched hub.You didn't mention a part of the mind, to my way of thinking,is a major factor for mental conditions,inferiority complex. When i worked on the psyche ward,i found that most all,even children,suffered from this,supposedly starting at a very young age.Iv'e always been interested in psychiatry,often thought i would like to lie on a couch and let it all hang out. lol

Love and peace


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Eiddwen - why thank you, m'am, for your kind words! I will keep them coming, don't you fear!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dave - thank you very much, kind sir! I really appreciate your feedback.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Kim - I really appreciate your kind words. My brain? Not sure it's that orderly, but you would be welcome anyway! Thanks for the very positive feedback.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Steve - thanks for stopping by and commenting. That Pavlov joke is funny! Glad you liked the Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie - soos altyd is jy baie welkom. Dankie vir die mooi woorde en ek stem heeltemaal saam - sulke goed moet in skool al geleer word.

Thanks a ton for stopping by and commenting!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

BeatsMe - yes indeed, Wikipedia is a great resource! I think it is our minds that are so awesomely complex and powerful that we will never fully understand them but we just keep on trying to get more and more informed. It's a great chase!

Hope this Hub helped maybe to sort the theories out a bit!

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Charlie - yes I think we have, but I think we've still a long way to go! Thanks for the comment. And yes, Micky is a hoot, isn't he? A lovely man, but a hoot, definitely!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - thanks for the kind words, I appreicate them and your visit. Yes, inferiority complex is a big issue. Didn't want to complicate the Hub with too many things. Guess I might write about that sometime.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


ocbill profile image

ocbill 5 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

very thorough. I wish it could be quick when people are in the process of psychoanalysis instead of recurring sessions.

I bet this profession will only grow more because of the many stimuli that causes reflexive reactions or behaviors.


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

As always, Tony, this is a well-researched, well written hub. I have a question. Did Carl Jung, in his discuussion of individuation, lead the way to Carl Rogers? I may be off base on this. I have read a great deal about Jung, including his autobiography, but I know very little about Rogers.


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota

I am very impressed with the great information. I have my Bachelor's and Master's degree in Psychology. I have to admit that it's kinda fun to be able to diagnose myself now. Hey, we all have issues!!!

Anyway, awesome hub and I hit many buttons.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Bill - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree that analysis is a very long process, but then I guess it has a lot to deal with!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Mysterylady - thanks for stopping by. As for your question, I'm not sure. I have not read a lot of Jung, but have read a lot of Rogers. I don't recall Rogers making much mention of Jung. I don't know enough about Jung's discussion of individuation to make an intelligent comment on that. I will certainly see if I can find anything on it because it's an interesting thought.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


Vinodkpillai profile image

Vinodkpillai 5 years ago from Hyderabad, India

this is awesome - comprehensive in its sweep, engaging and useful!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

MT - coming from you I am deeply honoured! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an awesome comment. And don't we just (have issues, I mean)!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Vinod - thanks for the very kind words, sir! I appreciate them very much.

Love and peace

Tony


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Really good post, Tony...well thought out and researched.


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

Tony, from what I gather, individuation is similar to self-actualization. I was fascinated by Jung's idea of the collective unconscious - that we have within our psyche the memories of the entire human race.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Alek - thanks so much. I really appreciate your comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Mysterylady - yes I had rather suspected that. Thanks for coming back!

Love and peace

Tony


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

Can you imagine how much courage was needed by the pioneers of what was a completely unknown science? Good job Brother Tony, as usual :-)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dimitris - thanks Brother! I agree - they must have been very courageous. They had to put with a lot of opposition from all sides, perhaps most from people with rather narrow religious views - surprising really since views like those were the cause of a lot of the kinds of problems these pioneers worked with, especially the "hysterics" with whom Freud worked a lot.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


Shahid Bukhari profile image

Shahid Bukhari 5 years ago from My Awareness in Being.

From the number of Comments here, it is clear, how very interested, we are in Understanding human Psyche ... So far the half defined Science of Psychology.

In the Islamic definitive ... all Knowledge, Complexes, and Syndromes are an Intrinsic part of the Human Mind ... The Human Awareness in Being ...

Psychology attempts dividing these, into distinct Human Behaviors, where one behavorial characteristic is seen overlapping, or suppressing another, into a definable pattern ... or, the Instincts, overruling Reason etc..

The human Mind cannot be divided into Sections ... its Orientation can be ... into Right and Wrong ... the Fundamentals of Human Awareness ... In the purpose of Being.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Salaam, Shahid, and thanks for the interesting comment. I appreciate your contribution here very much.

Love and peace

Tony


libby101a profile image

libby101a 5 years ago from KY

Wonderfully written! Very informative! Voting up! I love psychology and this would be great for anyone in school or college studying the subject!! Awesome!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Libby - thank you so much for your kind words. I really am glad you found this one so good!

Love and peace

Tony


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

The study of Psychology has always fascinated me. So when I saw this hub, I tore right in. You have done a superb job here tony. It is excellent in every way and I appreciate the photos as well. So glad you wrote this hub. I will most likely have the desire to read it again so I have saved it. Thanks so much! :-)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Audrey - thanks so much for the visit and the kind words. I do appreciate them. So glad that you found this Hub so good!

Love and peace

Tony


Insight Island 5 years ago

I think love psychology the more now, than ever.this is highly educative.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Onsight Island - thanks so much. Appreciated indeed.

Love and peace

Tony


faith joy rojo 5 years ago

it seems that theres no such fact about the mening of the above


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts

I enjoyed your Hub. Maslow's the one whose ideas I view as the most reasonable. I've done my share of studying/reading in the area of psychology, but I'm not solidly enough familiar with Freud to really have a right to make the following comment (and yet, I need to make it LOL ): I'm glad his ideas are "under fire", and I have a feeling the field of psychology/psychiatry will finally move toward beliefs based more in common sense and solid understanding of human beings. Really, I think Freud was looking at the world, and his patients, through "issues-colored" glasses (and I don't mean "issues" that were his patients' :/ )


Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

Anjo Bacarisas II 4 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

I'm getting a degree in Psychology a semester from now and I love this hub. I get to learn a lot of things. But I do not diagnose myself too often because I think it's dangerous to become overly cautious about your own behavior and the behavior of other people. :)) Just a thought.

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