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History of Psychiatry

Professor Johann Christian Reil coined the term ‘psychiatry’ in 1808 and the word itself can be broken down into two Greek words: ‘psyche’ which is defined as meaning soul or mind, and the word, ‘iatros’ defined as physician. Psychiatry is a medical practice used to treat mental disorders.

There are several methods in which a student may approach a research project on the history of psychiatry. The following are just a few suggestions:

  • History of the profession of psychiatry, beginning with Galen, a Greek physician born in AD 129
    • Break down according to eras
    • Choose one significant Psychiatrist
  • Break down by Psychiatric Disorder or Disease
  • Focus on one specific country
  • Outline the discipline according to psychiatric writings and documents of old

However you choose to begin your research paper, don't forget that though mental illness and disorders have been in existence for longer than it is noted historically, it once was thought that individuals with these ailments were simply possessed by evil spirits. There was no treatment or cure for these individuals other than what was thought to be ‘black magic.’ It was not until the 8th century that the first psychiatric hospitals were actually introduced into the Medieval Islamic world. In the 19th century, institutions focused on mental health treatments were built and were much more elaborate in the methods used to treat mentally ill patients.

The manner in which mental illness, diagnosis and treatment were conceptualized had a considerable amount to do with prevailing social understanding and stereotypes of mental health. In the beginning of the development of the field, the process of psychiatry was mitigated to the realm of medicine. As such, many of the psychologists that practiced before the turn of the nineteenth century “directed their energies toward other clinical applications of psychological knowledge”. The work that these individuals undertook focused on the development of social welfare programs to help individuals with physical and mental disabilities and further to help rehabilitate those that had been injured. In this respect, it is clear that up until the 1930s, when psychotherapy became a more integral part of the practice of psychology, many psychologists served the same role that most individuals now equate with the social worker.


Psychiatry at the Turn of the 20th Century

By 1904, the number of mental patients in facilities grew to at least 150,000 in the United States. It was not until the 20th century that different treatment options for the mentally ill, as well as growth in the field of psychiatry came into practice. To treat most psychiatric disorders, psychotherapy and drugs were deemed effective using a combination of both on different timetables. It is thought that both an individual’s environment and his or her experience can influence how his or her genes react to anxiety or depression thus leading to a mental illness. The field of psychiatry evaluates all factors and consequently offers treatment subjectively for each patient.

Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry

Between the years of 1930 and 1945, a considerable debate in both America and Europe over the institutionalization of psychoanalysis in the realm of psychiatry eventually served as the basis for the evolution of the practice into the realm of psychology. During this time many prominent psychologists argued that psychiatric discourse did not have a right to hold the tenets of psychoanalysis as their own property. The research that had been conducted in the field of psychology showed that there were numerous applications for the techniques of psychotherapy in psychology.

While the debate over claims to psychotherapy raged, by the 1950s, the “pharmacological” age of psychiatry had begun. With the discovery of psychotropic medications that could alter brain chemistry and improve mental health outcomes, the field of psychiatry became more focused on the science of drug therapies, rather than on the specific results that could be garnered through psychotherapy. This coupled with the dramatic need for psychological services for World War II veterans, promulgated psychiatrists to formally relinquish monopolistic control over psychotherapy and allow psychologists to participate in this process.

The types of psychology and psychotherapies that have developed over the course of the millennium have been predicated upon the specific needs of society as determined primarily by economic discourse. In this perspective, it is clear that the specific methods that have evolved were predicated on the specific needs of the society and grounded in the economic development of social discourse.

Psychiatry Today

For many professionals in the mental health profession, this drastic change in the delivery of mental health care has promulgated distress and concern. Clients entering therapy are each expected to respond to treatment in the exact same manner. Most therapists realize that this is not a realistic assumption of mental health practice, as each patient as specific needs that are unique to the individual. However, as healthcare moves to the realm of managed care, the focus is on the most cost effective means to treat most patients with the greatest efficacy. For those that do not respond effectively to the treatment proscribed by the managed care health provider, the reality is a continuation of illness that is never effectively treated

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