Abnormal Psychology has evolved for many years and tried to explain the peculiarities and resolve abnormal behaviors. It is evident that the history of Psychopathology has come a long way and has improved throughout time.

Learning about the history and background of Psychopathology takes us back to how it was and will provide us an idea of how the school of thought has emerged from then and now.

The early supernatural tradition

Before the age of science and research, mental disorders are deemed as supernatural aspects where it is beyond the hold of human control.

Way back then, it was believed that abnormal behavior is caused by demon possession or dark magic by witches – thus the brutal and inhumane means of taking out the “evil spirit” inside one’s body.

Concept of demonology

Did you know that drilling holes are one of the believed measures that were taken to eradicate “evil spirits” in an individual who manifests bizarre behavior?

In their quest for discoveries, a team of archaeologists discovered human skeletons that have an egg-size hole on their skull. It was speculated by many experts that trephination is one of the ancient forms of practice in surgery and is assumed to release “demons” out of the person’s body.

This notion of supernatural causes of psychopathology or demonology was far-famed before the Age of Enlightenment.

Because of the huge threat of trephination, many may have been persuaded to comply with tribal norms. Despite the claims and speculations, there are no written accounts or proof to justify that trephination exists, leading to more explanations arising.

For instance, possibly trephination is used to take out blood clotting or shattered pieces of bones in an individual’s skull.


Another famous notion during the 15th to 17th century is the massive persecution of “witches”. Most of the prosecuted individuals are women who were poor, an unmarried old woman who was begging for alms or food from the locals.

The Church believed that the witches made terms with the Devil, hence, Pope Innocent VIII ordained that the witches need to be prosecuted. There was even a manual called Malleus Maleficarum or The Witches’ Hammer to help the inquisitors search for witches.

The accused is subjected to tests- and there is one called the water-float test where the accused will be dunked in a pool to prove their innocence and that they are not possessed by the Devil. If the suspect drowned and sank, it means that they are pure and innocent. But when they bob their head out and survive, they are judged to be in agreement with the Devil.

Either way, the suspect is still reprehensibly the culprit. Contemporary scholars and experts conjectured that the persecuted people were individuals who suffer from psychological disorders and are executed because of their abnormal behavior. Considerably, the witchcraft accusation is deemed to be a convenient means to kill and end social and political rivalries in the era.

Astrological concepts

A Swiss physician named Paracelsus dismissed the notion of possessions and witchcraft. He suggested that the moons and the stars’ movements have deep-seated effects on one’s psychological well-being.

This theory is inspired by the “lunatic” concept where “luna” means the moon.

You might hear from someone when they are explaining something foolish they did and state “It must have been because it’s the full moon”.

This concept emphasizes that the heavenly bodies affect psychological behavior. However, there is no strong scientific evidence that supports this notion.

The biological concepts

Health care experts have also investigated the biological concepts that cause psychopathology. Hippocrates along with many physicians in this world developed and sewed the naturalistic explanations for abnormal behavior.

Hippocrates is also known as the father of modern Western medicine, states that the brain is the seat of consciousness, wisdom, emotion, and intelligence. He highlighted that psychological disorders can be treated like physical diseases.

After some time, Galen, a Roman physician, adopted the concepts and ideas of Hippocrates, developing an effective Hippocratic-Galenic approach called the humoral theory of disorders.

This approach explains that the four body fluids are connected to normal brain functioning. These are the black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. This theory closely resembles the elements of air, fire, earth, and air and is also sometimes applied to personality traits.

  • Blood – this is closely linked to sanguine which defines someone who is cheerful and optimistic presumably because of the excessive and continuous blood flow in the body.
  • Yellow bile – is known to be a choleric person or short-tempered individual.
  • Black bile – this is related to a melancholic person or someone who shows depression and extreme sadness.
  • Phlegm – a phlegmatic person is an indication of sluggishness and apathy. A person has this time of personality if he/she shows calm under stress.

Biological treatments

As the advancement of technology has progressed over the years, especially during the 1900s, the origin of Psychopathology became a great focus to understand from a biological perspective. Thus, this area has now become an avenue in treating individuals who suffer from psychological disorders.

There are a few well-known biological treatments that were done during that period. Let’s discuss them below:

The use of insulin administered to patients suffering from psychotic tendencies. This is usually given when patients are not eating in order to increase their appetite.

In 1927, Manfred Sakel, a Viennese physician, began using a higher dosage of insulin that would cause patients to convulse and would be temporarily comatose.

Surprisingly, some patients would feel much better in regards to their mental health, and their recovery from their psychotic symptoms was easily attributed to the convulsions caused by the insulin.

Another method of treatment that was commonly used during that period was electroconvulsive therapy. The procedure starts with applying electric shocks to the temple of the head and these shocks cause brief convulsions and memory loss.

However, practitioners would state that no harm has been done otherwise. These convulsions would elicit elated feelings, similar to that of the effects of insulin.

Last but not the least, a surgical procedure called prefrontal lobotomy was a common practice during the 1900s. A lobotomy would take place by severing or disconnecting areas from the prefrontal cortex.

This method is done on patients who had violent behaviors. The surgery would result in the recipients becoming dull and, unfortunately, suffering from their cognitive capacities.

The psychological tradition

Moral therapy

During the 19th century, the approach arising from a psychosocial perspective in treating mental disorders became the strength of the idea – this idea was also known as moral therapy. The term moral, in this case, refers to the psychological and emotional aspects of treatment rather than the code of conduct which is usually expected from a medical standpoint.

Moral therapy popularized in treating patients as normally as possible wherein the patients must be exposed to settings where they are encouraged to build interpersonal relationships with others and creating normal social interaction.

After the mid-19th century, unfortunately, treatment for psychological disorders was not as humane as we all have hoped it would be. Asylums were usually overcrowded, which resulted in a lack of individual care.

Dorothea Dix, a great crusader campaigned the improve the conditions of asylums so that patients will be able to receive proper care and treatment in order for them to be brought back out into society. Dorothea’s work became known as the mental hygiene movement.

The efforts of Dorothea Dix lead to 32 hospitals being built – spreading out the number of patients institutionalized so that they may be given more personal care through their treatment.

The evolution of asylums

Ever since the 15th century, there have been little to no hospitals available to institutionalize individuals who were suffering from mental disorders. However, there have been many hospitals built that were specialized in housing those who suffered from leprosy.

As centuries passed and the number of cases of leprosy started to decline, these buildings were later left empty and abandoned. Later on, these same establishments were used to institutionalize those suffering from mental disorders when this was coming into the public’s awareness.

With the help of Dorothea Dix, as mentioned earlier, numerous institutions were built that are now called asylums.

However, one major problem was the lack of staff that was needed to care for the patients inside the institutions.


Today we learned about the history of Psychopathology and how we progress over time to address mental disorders better. Until now, mental health experts and practitioners are putting their best efforts into research and understand the wonders of the human mind.

Unlike before, we now have many ways to cope, address, cure, and help people who are battling mental disorders.

About Admin

Nicole T. Conquilla is a 21-year old registered Psychometrician in the Philippines. She is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Psychology who is a strong mental health advocate and encourages people to discuss, help, and support one another to cope and get through their mental health problems.

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