History of Mental Therapy

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Psychology as a science did not have its birthday in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt opened the first psychological clinic in the history, but goes way back, because assessing and treating mental disorders had already been main targets for people. Some thinkers in the Middle and Far East have tried to deal with mental distress by combining magical, religious and medical knowledge, therefore using both psychology and philosophy in approaching such disorders. Avicenna, Patañjali, Rhazes, Rumi and Padmasambhava are such thinkers.

Even if it cannot be proved directly with dates or documents, we won’t be wrong to say that psychotherapy has been a practice of people throughout the ages. Individuals did seek and ask for counseling and comfort from others and they received answers in a form or another. Therefore, it’s most probable that psychotherapy finds its root sometime in the ninth century, in the Middle East, along with the practice of the great Persian thinker, Rhazes. He was the one that, at some point, had the chief physician position at the psychiatric hospital in Baghdad. However, many of the mental illnesses were considered to be effect of the occult or serious medical conditions and were generally dealt with by punishing the ill persons, applying violent treatment methods. It was only later on that more appropriate methods were discovered and applied, such as group meetings and activities, encouragement of the ill person and attempts to reason with him or her.

Starting with the ninetieth century, other methods of treating the “insane” developed. One was the analysis of the shape of one’s skull (phrenology, whose author was Franz Joseph Gall, a renowned anatomist). Other methods were the study of the face (physiognomy), spiritualism, a version of the concept of “positive visualization” – mental healing (by Phineas Quimby) and mesmerism, a method that used magnets as ways to relieve the psychological distress.

Little by little, mental disorders fell under the incidence of neurology and psychiatry, so that psychologists focused less and less on the above mentioned disorders. However, the academic sector of the community disagreed with all the treating methods of the mentally ill patients and an asylum movement began which chose moral therapy as a way of treatment. The first therapeutic method developed was Freud’s “talking cure” and it was first applied at the University of Pennsylvania.

Psychotherapy became a part of psychology after the World War Two and had a starting point in psychoanalysis, followed by “the talking cure” and new conceptions added by theorists like Jung and Adler. All these explained how individuals psychologically function and change and, along with Freud’s theory of bringing the unconscious in the conscious area, were the basis for the nowadays psychodynamic therapy.

The period between the 1920 and 1950 was a period of slow or no progress for psychotherapy, due to the apparition of behaviorism, which denied the presence of mental activity of the individuals. However, starting 1950s, two counter-effects of behaviorism developed, the existential-humanistic therapy and the cognitivism. The writings and practice of people like Viktor Frankl, Carl Rogers and Rollo May have helped a humanistic movement to gain depth and consistence, basing the work on positive changes induced by empathic, supportive and genuine therapeutic relationships.

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I’ve hurt myself while trying to help myself more than you can imagine, that’s why I want to scientifically analyze every popular self-help technique and ‘method’ there is.