Historical Perspective of Abnormal Psychology Essay

The study of the human mind and human behavior has evolved over time and remains the world’s greatest mysteries - Historical Perspective of Abnormal Psychology Essay introduction. Historically it has been a fascinating topic that has spanned time and today still remains amongst the most intriguing topics. However, the more ambiguous or culturally predicted behavior becomes it requires an explanation of what is considered to abnormal and or normal. Theories from demonic possession to biological have been a part of intense research.

The quest surrounding combating and controlling abnormal behavior has been housed in three primary categories: Biological, Psychological, and the paranormal (Darmour & Hansell, 2008). Such research is what has lead to the development of what we know as abnormal psychology. Abnormal psychology is now a blossoming discipline in the field of psychology. Origin of Abnormal Psychology The discipline known as abnormal psychology has scientific discipline has existed for a little more than 100 years, dating beyond Biblical history (Hansell & Damour, 2008).

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The earliest explanation and or validation of mental illness were the amistic/spiritual approach. This approach was formulated from the belief that the metaphysical, spirit world has an affect on the corporeal observable world. The real-world presentation with regards to this belief in relation to psychopathology required the use of trepidation or the practice of boring holes in the skull of a living person with the expressed intent of releasing the evil spirit or spirits.

This practice was common amongst Hispanic Aztec and Incan cultures as early as 3000 B. C. (Shieff, Smith & Wadley, 1997). In or around 460 B. C Hippocrates a Greek physician was the first to propose a biological explanation of abnormal behavior. He theorized that an imbalance in the four fluids- blood, phelgm, black bile, and yellow bile, which he referred to as humors were the root to mental illness (abnormal behavior). Hippocrates believed that the brain as the center for intelligence, emotions, wisdom and consciousness.

Hippocrates theory although flawed and primitive began the scientific evolution of abnormal psychology and inspired Roman physician Galen and other physicians in the diagnoses and treatment of abnormal psychology. The Development of Abnormal Psychology as a Scientific Discipline Ancient Greek were the amongst the first to develop diagnose and treat what was than know as hysteria (abnormal behavior), now know as conversion disorder. The symptoms surrounding hysteria included paralysis, confusion, and a variety of pains and aliments, in addition the loss of sensation.

The symptoms for hysteria were also common in neurological damage; however in hysteria there was no neurological damage present. Since hysteria appeared to more common amongst women, it was hypothesized that is was due to the blockage of fluids as a result to the uterus moving around in the body of the female. It was Sigmund Freud who in 1896 proposed a systematic theory of psychodynamic which provided an explanation the psychological components surrounding hysteria (Hansell & Damour, 2008).

Freud’s research revealed conflict between conscious and subconscious explained the usual physical symptoms associated with hysteria. The claims made by Freud’s psychodynamic theory lacked in scientific objective evidence, yet it still offered abnormal psychology’s first comprehensive theory for psychopathology. The 1800’s offered the field of psychology many accomplishments that included, Wilhelm Wundt in 1879 set up the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt’s laboratory set the stage for the scientific illumination of the causes of psychological dysfunctions.

As well as the inception of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1892 by G. Stanley Hall, the APA later in 1952 the first diagnostic for mental disorders (DSM-I) (Anthony & Goldstein, 1988). The DSM catalogues the various diagnostic categories of mental disorders and assist in establishing a criteria for diagnosing mental illness. The same year (1892) the University of Pennsylvania opened the first psychology clinic headed up by Lighter Witmer. With all the above in place the field of abnormal psychology went from the obscure reached of spirituality to a defined scientific discovery.

Model of Psychology The study of abnormal psychology relay on three theoretical models. These models include psychosocial, biological (medical), and sociocultural. Which are used to identify and develop theoretical approaches for treatment of abnormal behavior. The psychosocial approach deals with the interaction and individual’s has with his or her environment. The reasoning associated with the psychosocial model includes the study of stress triggers in aberrant or self destructive behavior.

Erik Erikson was the first psychologist to promote psychosocial development in association with psychological dysfunction (Studer, 2006). Erikson’s eight stages of development assisted in establishing healthy as well as dysfunctional development: trust, independence, enterprise, industry, individuality, intimacy, productivity, and integrity. It was Erikson belief that these stages are epigenetic, the completion of each stage is essential in order for a person to progress to the next stage.

When progression does not occur abnormal behavior tends to develop. The 4th axis of the DSM-IV is devoted to psychosocial and environmental challenges that contribute to mental illness. The biological (medical) model concentrates on the bio-chemical functional of the brain and the physiological activities of the body, and its connection to psychology. The biological (medical) model deals solely with the physical components of human psychology and therefore attempts to explain abnormal psychology in purely material terms.

However, even though this model is solely concerned with the physical world, social considerations can have implications on purely biological mechanisms. For instance, Masterpasqua (2009) found that mood and anxiety disorders correlate highly with certain DNA patterns and reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which are both sensitive to the influence of the social role that a caregiver exerts on an infant. In all, the biological/medical model offers a limited explanation of abnormal behavior, since social factors have a large impact on physical goings-on.

The third model is sociocultural theory. Sociocultural theories study the impact urban living and other social, cultural effects on general living. For example, obesity is considered an abnormal state of being in a world that is promoting physical fitness and positive health choices. Studies explore why people choose soft addictions such as smoking and social drinking as well as social stressors associated with everyday living (Hansell & Damour, 2008) Conclusion

The field of abnormal psychology initiates an understanding of what is abnormal is largely built on a foundation that places an emphasis on the spiritual, and the misguided biological interpretations of the Greek physician Hippocrates. The Viennese physician Sigmund Freud later (1896) offered a more comprehensive explanation with regard to psychopathology, which concentrates on the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious forces surrounding mental illness.

In addition the establishment of the first clinical laboratory and the introduction to the APA and the it first published DSM, these components were very instrumental in molding the study of abnormal behavior thus the field of abnormal psychology as a scientific discipline. The influence of psychosocial, biological (medical), and sociocultural models assist in identifying and treating abnormal psychology. All of these components have been instrumental in establishing a historical perspective in the advancement of abnormal psychology.


Anthony, R. N. , Goldstein, W. N. (1988). The diagnosis of depression and the DSMs. Washington, DC:Market House Books, Ltd. Burger, J, M. (2010). Personality (7th. ed. ). Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning Cervone, D. & Pervin, L. ,A (2010). Personality: Theory and research (11th. ed. ). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Feist, J. , & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of personality (7th. ed. ). New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill. Larsen, R. , J & Buss, M. , D (2010). Personality psychology (4th. ed. ). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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