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Since ancient times, humans have tried to understand and treat mental disorders. Early societies first believed that abnormal behavior was attributed to the influence of evil spirits, or demons (Long, 2009). Dating back to the Stone Age, mental disorders such as migraines, convulsive attacks or seizures, and other brain related symptoms were treated with stone instruments. Carving a two-centimeter hole into the skull to “draw out evil spirits” was a brutal process called trephining (Long, 2009). Remarkably, trephining is performed today in countries such as Africa, South America, and Melanesia (Vogt, 1998).
In ancient Greece, priests treated the mentally ill. During this time, the people viewed these priests as a combination of heads of churches, psychologists, and medicine men. People knew a limited amount of human anatomy and physiology. The father of medicine lived at this time, Hippocrates. He believed in the rationale for treating psychological disorders; denying the supernatural and spiritual interventions used at that time for treating the mentally ill (Long, 2009). He saw the brain as the central organ for intellectual abilities, therefore abnormal behaviors must also have its roots in the brain’s pathology. He theorized that abnormality was attributed to an imbalance of humors (human activity), or liquids in the body. Plato and Aristotle also believed that abnormal behavior originated within the individual, not from the influence of outside forces (New World Encyclopedia, 2011).
In the Middle Ages, the treatment of abnormal behavior divided into three areas of study: the biological, the psychological, and the paranormal (Hansell & Darmour, 2008). Religious thought dominated the public view of abnormal behavior. Psychological dysfunction was thought of as originating from the conflict between good and evil and that demons possessed the mentally ill. Convicted of witchcraft, the mentally ill were ostracized with religious inquisition, and suffered barbaric treatment methods such as flogging and burning.
In the 16th century, the abnormal continued to be ostracized from the population, and pillaged from hospitals; giving rise to asylums. During the French Revolution, Philippe Pinet was the chief physician at La Bicetre asylum in Paris (New World Encyclopedia, 2011). Pinet believed that the mentally ill were genuinely sick and deserving of humane care. At La Bicetre, patients were not shackled, and staff was forbidden to cause physical harm to them.
During the Age of Reason, medicine experienced pronounced progress, including psychology. A physician named Franz Mesmer proposed that a medicinal magnetism, a powerful influence, existed in the human body. Mesmer introduced mesmerism; a curative technique similar to today’s hypnosis. Mesmer believed energy existed in the universe that infiltrated the central nervous system, which humans can control and treat the mind (self-hypnosis-the-key, 2011). Although researchers did not take hypnosis seriously during the time of Mesmer, his studies attracted pioneers of psychology later in the twentieth century, such as the famous Austrian doctor Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the discipline of psychology was born. Psychology created a deeper understanding of abnormal behavior and theoretical practices for treating it. Although asylums still existed, pioneers such as Freud developed treatments for abnormal behavior. Modern science was beginning to correlate abnormal behaviors with cultural relativism, which centered on the relationship of psychological, physical, and social conditions in the individual and society (a2zpsychology, 2010).
In the last 30 years, tremendous progress has been made to defining and classifying normal and abnormal behavior. In the mid-1970’s, a highly regarded classification system called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) multiaxial evaluation was introduced. This evaluated an individual in a clinical setting and is the standard classification of mental disorders (PsyWeb, 2011) The classification system lists mental disorders that best reflect the signs and symptoms that afflict the individual evaluated into three major components: diagnostic classification, diagnostic criteria, and descriptive text. Although the DSM is widely accepted by science, there is room for improvement. The DSM is restricted to only the mental disorders that are theorized. Opportunity exists to introduce future technology for demonstrating schema for those theories, in addition to a classification system based on factual scientific principles of behavior.
Abnormal psychology is studied under three theoretical models: psychosocial, biological/medical and sociocultural (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Psychosocial models refer to interactions with an individual’s environment. Psychosocial reasoning refers to stress triggers or self-destructive behavior of an individual’s reaction to daily interactions (Long, 2009). Examples include Post Traumatic stress Syndrome (PTSD) and road rage. A psychoanalyst named Erik Homburger Erikson composed the idea of “identity crisis” for his theory of human psychosocial development. He believed that psychological development is the cause of pre-programmed biological changes associated with one’s social environment. An individual’s reactions a social situation triggers a hormonal change. During a developmental crisis, Erikson theorized that abnormal behavior was a result of an unbalance of hormones. For a stable personality, an individual must resolve turning points successfully, so to develop virtues such as courage, loyalty, and wisdom (New World Encyclopedia, 2008). Erickson’s theory advances the Freudian focus by merging childhood sexuality with the social environment that includes an individual’s entire life cycle.
The biological/medical model emerged with the discovery that brain damage can result in cognitive disturbances and abnormal behavior. This model resulted in a more humane treatment of those who suffered from mental illness. Viewed as possessing a malfunctioning brain, the abnormal was not held responsible for his or her behaviors. As a result, asylums declined, and treatment started in hospitals. Some factors considered to be potential causes of a malfunctioning brain are poor nutrition, injury to the head or brain, genetics, and viral infections. Treatments include psychotropic medications, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and neurosurgery (Making the Modern World, 2004).
The sociocultural theory holds that abnormal behavior is the result of both society and culture influences on the individual. Considering factors include social norms, environmental roles, family, and cultural expectations. Studies on the effect of soft addictions such as smoking, recreational drinking, and social stressors are most important. Seminal psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that parents, guardians, peers, and society at large were responsible for an individual’s development. Vygotsky contribution to abnormal psychology was the Zone of Proximal Development. This concept explains the distance between the individual problem-solving level, and the potential development of problem-solving under adult or peer guidance (Cherry, 2011).
The origin of abnormal psychology is vast with a long history of ignorance, violence, and oppression. Through the ages, humans have strived to understand the human mind, and unleash its power so that all humans can function normally in society. Signs and symptoms of abnormal behavior are classified via the DSM multiaxial classification system, but there is opportunity for improvement. To label a behavior normal or abnormal, one must consider the definition of normal in context to one’s psychosocial, biological/medical, and sociocultural needs. If society agrees that a mother’s role is to care and nurture her children, a mother like Casey Anthony, who allegedly killed her daughter and lied about it, is labeled abnormal. Defining what society considers normal is where studies can begin to treat people with abnormal behaviors.
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