Origins and Evolution of Psychopathology and Abnormal Behavior

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Origins and Evolution of Psychopathology and Abnormal Behavior

Psychopathology has a long and troublesome history during which little was known about how disordered minds function and how to help individuals suffering from mental disorders. According to Alloy, Riskind, and Manos (2005), the little knowledge that does exist about how ancient people treated abnormal behavior points to the belief that external, spiritual forces caused people to behave erratically. Possession by demons or evil spirits was considered the most likely explanation and exorcism was the most common treatment. The revolutionary work of Hippocrates (c. 460-360 B.C.E.) dramatically affected the way we view abnormal behavior. His writings represent some of the earliest known disciplined thinking about abnormal behavior as a product of biological disease, rather than supernatural force. One of his most well known theories involved balancing the four elemental fluids of the human body: phlegm, blood, black bile, and yellow bile. This theory, according to Alloy et al. (2004), was an early forerunner of contemporary biochemistry research in psychopathology. Hippocrates practiced observing his patients and recording their behavior and his treatments. He is credited with substantially advancing the field of psychopathology in its formative years. In summary, “Hippocrates’ emphasis on the natural causes of diseases, on clinical observation, and on brain pathology as the root of mental disorders was truly revolutionary” (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley, 2010). Early writings from China suggest that ancient Chinese believed the root of abnormal behavior resided in natural causes, as opposed to supernatural causes. Chung Ching, a 2nd century doctor and writer believed that mental illness stemmed from disease in the organs of the body. These diseases could arise from psychological distress, but the core of the problem rested in the organ. Similarly, in the early Greek and Roman civilizations, the educated recognized physical as well as environmental factors in the formation of psychological disorders. In the Middle Ages, or Medieval period, some early scientific concepts from Greek and Roman civilizations endured. However, the belief that supernatural forces caused mental illness was still rampant. This belief led to persecution, isolation, and ill treatment of disturbed people. The growing popularity of asylums during this time begins a dark chapter in the history of psychopathology. Though, “most of the early mental asylums opened with the best of intentions” (Alloy et al., 2004), the isolation and inhumane living conditions made them places of abuse and neglect. One torchbearer, amidst the hopeless and criminalized ill, was Philippe Pinel who worked in Paris, France during late 1700’s. He and his predecessor, Jean-Baptiste Pussin, removed chains and eradicated the abuse and violence that characterized so many of the early institutions. In treating patients humanely, they discovered that many people improved under their care. Further, Pinel contributed significantly to the field of psychopathology through his practice of record keeping and the development of case histories for each of his patients. In addition to Hippocrates, Pinel represents a point of evolution in the field of psychopathology. In the United States, a contemporary of Pinel named Benjamin Rush contributed to the field “by writing the first American treatise on mental illness, by organizing the first medical course in psychiatry, and by devoting his attention, as the foremost physician at Pennsylvania Hospital, exclusively to mental problems” (Alloy et al., 2004). These advances contributed significantly to the evolution of psychopathology as an academic and scientific discipline. In addition, psychiatrists working in the military influenced the development of abnormal psychology as a field of study. Treating war veterans and examining how mental illness affects the job performance of a...
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