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The Development of Abnormal Psychology

Updated on January 31, 2017

Abnormal psychology is the study of mental disorder also referred to mental illness, psychological disorders or psychopathology (McDougall, 2015). The development of abnormal psychology can be traced from the ancient times to the twenty – first century. Different approaches and different treatments have been used to treat psychological abnormality. The different approaches that have been used ranges from superstitious beliefs to those that are based on scientific knowledge (Carson, Butcher and Mineka, 2002).

The first study of abnormal psychology attributed mental illness to demonology, gods and magic. Early writings show that the Chinese, Egyptians, Hebrews and Greeks attributed mental illness to demons and gods who had taken possession of a person. To determine whether the affected person was possessed by the good or evil spirit the communities would observe the symptoms of the individual. However, most of the possession was attributed to angry god or evil spirits and people there believed that such possession represented the wrath and punishments of such gods. During this times there were no scientific treatment as we have today the primary type of treatment to the condition was exorcism which included various techniques of casting out the evil spirits (Carson et al, 2002).

The Hippocrates’ early medical concepts were the first concepts that were opposed to the common belief in Greece at the time that deities and demons had a role in the development of abnormal psychology in human. Hippocrates’ medical concepts were developed by a Greek physician Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.) who is often referred to as the father of modern medicine. He argued that mental illness just like other diseases have natural causes. Hippocrates’ idea of natural causes of mental illness and other diseases was indeed revolutionary. However, he had little knowledge on physiology as he recommended that the best remedy for mental illness was marriage. The Hippocrates’ concepts was later advanced by Greek physicians who used treatments which were intended to make their patients comfortable by use of pleasant physical therapies which included therapies such as warm baths and massage.

During the middle ages (about A.D.500 to A.D. 1500),the scientific aspects of mental illness spread to other regions and it survived even in the Middle East. Several mental hospitals were opened in the Middle East and people with mental illness received humane treatment in such hospitals (McDougall, 2015). However, treatment of abnormal psychology was limited to superstition in Europe at the time. Treatment of the disease was therefore left to the clergy. Treatment of the disease in Europe at the time therefore included use of prayers, holy water and sanctified ointments among other. During the time in Europe people with the disease were considered to be witches and hence they were punished and in some cases killed (Barlow and Durand, 2011).

From the sixteenth century people started questioning the superstitious beliefs on mental illness in Europe. People adopted more scientific approaches to the disease. The clergy were opposed to the ideas but eventually the concepts were adopted in most parts of Europe. Early asylums emerged during the times where the mentally disturbed were kept. However, early asylums did not offer the best care for the mentally disturbed as they served as just as storage places or residence of the insane. This treatment to those who had mental illness spread up to the eighteen century. However, from the 18th century more humanitarian treatment was given to patient of the diseases in most parts of Europe and America.

In the 21st century the world has seen the growth of a number of asylums, development of contemporary ideas on the disease and developments of machines and drugs for treatment of the disease. Biological discoveries have been made linking the brain and mental disorders. Mental disorders have also been classified into a number of diseases. Governments have invested heavily into researches relating to the disease. The mental asylums treat patients in more dignified manner and are equipped with machines that are meant to make patients more comfortable.


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