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. 60-360 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.
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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 f 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 soldier were critical issues in the military during the late 1800’s and 1900’s. Perhaps one of the most significant milestones in the field of psychopathology was the development of antipsychotic medication.
In the 1950’s, the widespread use of reserpine and chlorpromazine had a dramatic effect on the field. Butcher et al. (2010) refer to the “almost magical impact of antipsychotic medication” in the 1950’s, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people being kept out of hospitals in the United States over the subsequent twenty years, from 560,000 in 1956 to 300,000 in 1971 (Butcher et al. , 2010) In addition to sparing many people hospitalization, antipsychotic medication introduced another facet to the field???psychopharmacology.
This advance further legitimized psychopathology as a scientific discipline. By the time Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) began his seminal work in the late nineteenth century, the field of psychopathology was well on its way to being firmly established in Europe and the United States. Freud was a neurologist who sought to understand the ways in which disorders develop, become manifest, and are treated. His work led to the development of psychoanalysis, which has significantly influenced scientific and academic thinking about the impact of thought processes on mental health.
Freud’s work is so influential that it has permeated the general consciousness of Western culture and how we think about our own thoughts and behavior. During the twentieth century, the development of a guide to categorize and classify abnormal behavior significantly contributed to the field of psychopathology. The International Classification of Disease System and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are the results of collecting and organizing knowledge about disordered behavior.
These guides consist of lists of symptoms of disorders and criteria for diagnoses that have become the source of knowledge of the breadth and depth of mental disorders. They attempt to standardize the process of identifying and evaluating symptoms. In this way, the development of these standards is a guidepost in the evolution of abnormal psychology. Contemporary theory regarding the causes of abnormal behavior can be divided into four categories: biological, psychological, and sociocultural, perspectives. The biological viewpoint identifies physical, organic diseases as the fundamental cause of psychopathology.
For example, trauma to the brain can cause damage that results in delusions and disordered thinking. Additionally, many theorists suggest that an individual’s brain chemistry affects their behavior. It is widely believed that imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine cause common disorders such as depression and anxiety. Hormonal imbalances and chromosomal abnormalities are also considered likely causes from a biological perspective. The psychological viewpoint encompasses a number of theoretical perspectives: psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, and existential.
The psychodynamic perspective grew out of Freud’s work and his theories on personality. Behaviorists study observable behavior to understand and explain abnormality. The cognitive-behavioral viewpoint focuses on how thought processes affect and alter behavior and “lead to maladaptive emotions and behavior” (Butcher, et al. 2010). Humanistic theorists focus on the development of the self as the fundamental process through which we develop and grow or are stymied. Existential theorists view abnormal behavior as “a failure to deal constructively with existential despair and frustration” (Butcher, et al. 2010). In this way, one’s life is seen as a process of resolving conflicts with human nature and the struggle to make meaning out of life. Sociocultural theory is concerned with the ways social environments and cultures influence and relate to abnormal behavior. The definition of abnormal is, in large part, defined by the social and cultural context of the individual exhibiting abnormal behavior. Sociocultural theorists concern themselves with the ways that similar behaviors across cultures are interpreted and treated differently. For example, Butcher et al. 2010) suggest that characteristics of depression “such as sadness, hopelessness, unhappiness, and a lack of pleasure in the things of the world and in social relationships, have dramatically different meanings in different societies” (Butcher et al. , 2010). In Western societies, these symptoms define depression, which is considered an abnormal state. In the Buddhist faith, withdrawing from social relationships is an important step toward spiritual enlightenment (Butcher et al. , 2010). In one culture, the behavior requires treatment and in another, it is encouraged and strongly reinforced.
In addition to cultural interpretations of behavior, sociocultural theorists are concerned with social factors such as the disparities in those with low socioeconomic status, racial and gender inequity, and a culture’s response to major societal issues such as violence. Each theoretical viewpoint provides a sharper focus on specific issues concerning abnormal behavior. However, in focusing on one viewpoint or perspective, other relevant information that does not align with a particular theory may be lost. The variety and depth of the theoretical viewpoints are important components of a rigorous academic and scientific discipline.
Each perspective contributes to a more complete understanding of the causes of abnormal behavior. Looking forward, the trends seem to be pointing toward a blended theoretical viewpoint that attempts to encompass biological, psychological, and social perspectives. Bibliography Alloy, L. B. , Riskind, J. H. , & Manos, M. J. (2005). Abnormal psychology: Current perspectives. (9th ed. ) Boston: McGraw-Hill. Butcher, J. N. , Mineka, S. , & Hooley, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology (14th ed. ) Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.