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Clinical Psychology: History and Evolution

By Edited May 17, 2016 0 0

Clinical Psychology's broad and eventful background has origins beginning with the Greek philosophers all the way to the famous Sigmund Freud and beyond, finding its roots in contemporary psychology, leveraging a combination of medical science advancement, research into the human mind, and empirically centered proof which together have helped move forward the maxims through which clinical researchers handle subjects with individual psychological problems, and in the process develop clinical treatments to address these problems [1]. Even though there are numerous variations between psychological theorists, clinical psychology practitioners, psychological researchers, and other professions that focus on the mind, all have ultimately proven fruitful in bettering the lives of those that suffer from psychological distress.

Philosophical Beginnings

It was the Greek philosophers that first acknowledged the close association between body and the mind and the impact this connection had on disease. Well known Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates (reported to be a medical doctor of sorts) and Aristotle noticed that the state of a person’s “soul” was in many cases somehow responsible the health of the body, and likewise issues of the “soul” could percolate into a manifestation, either positive or negative, in the physical body, During the Dark Ages, bodily and psychological conditions were regarded as a break of sorts in personality, and therefore curing physical illness and madness focused on healing the spirit. Then during the Renaissance, the pursuit of scientific methods and theory was born, such that pursuing spiritual cures for physical and mental diseases were regarded as absurd.

Sigmund Freud

Then, during the 1800’s, psychoanalytic theorist Sigmund Freud presented new ideas that provided evidence of sorts that the mind/body link (of which the aforementioned Greek philosophers spoke and taught) was essential in order to fully come to grips with how to maintain wellness, cure mental diseases, and address irregular behaviors. Freud’s theory of the human unconscious and how it could impact human physical and mental health, was reminiscent of the Greek viewpoint that the state of the brain (and soul) and body were closely bound together.

Wilhelm Wundt and Lightner Witmer

Wilhelm Wundt invented the first true psychology lab in the late 1800’s, and for the first time psychology was firmly established as a science. Shortly thereafter, Lightner Witmer pursued his strong belief that the science of psychology could be actively applied to the human psyche in order to alleviate and/or cure mental distress, and so in 1896 opened the first psychology clinic, hence establishing Witmer as the “father” of clinical psychology.  The demand for clinical psychology grew substantially when the U.S. military saw the need for psychological assessments of new recruits as well as psychological help for those soldiers that suffered from various types of mental distress due to experiences on the battlefield. The discipline of clinical psychology kept expanding, with new methods established by the APA (American Psychological Association), continuing the advancement of formal training and education for aspiring clinical psychologists. Then, once again confirming the Freudian and Greek theories of the connection between mind and body, in 1977 George Engel produced a template for managing psychological disease, which recommended psychological and physical ailments have physical, psychological, and/or interpersonal elements that require accurate, holistic comprehension in order to supply efficient therapy.

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Clinical Psychology Evolution

The innate system behind clinical psychology that produces its continuously changing character, is comparable to the medical field since both leverage solid scientific techniques for new discovery and further advancements. For example, whilst the high-tech requirements and applied scientific methods used in neuroscience and contemporary medication proceed to uncover new findings concerning the mind and its link to conduct and thought, similarly, modern clinical psychology depends upon its stringent application of scientific method to better understand the links between mental distress and physical disease. Furthermore, as modern clinical applications of psychology strive for advancement, the combination of scientific method and discovery through research along with advancements gleaned from clinical practice and practical application,, together both sides serve to fuel the evolution and advancement of clinical psychology as a whole.

Applied Statistics and Research in Clinical Psychology

Study and research are at the core of that which offers solutions to the queries by which advancements establish further understanding. Research alone is definitely an important element in clinical psychology advancement, since the application of newly found truths increases program success rates, enhancing the caliber of therapies used, and delivering more efficient methods for assessing, comprehending, identifying and handling the needs of each individual patient, Furthermore, the discipline of deriving solid statistical evidence through the use of science and scientific techniques, sharpens the abilities of clinical psychologists who practice such techniques, leading them to even better forms of treatment for their patients. Certainly, solid statistical backing of theories also enables clinical psychologists to apply new treatments with confidence, supported by objective scientific evidence that substantiates their theories.

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Each research method has its share of drawbacks and distinctive benefits, however the aim of all such techniques is to establish or refute theories based upon solid, unbiased information gained through scientific procedure that is tightly controlled. Among the most difficult objectives in mindset of clinical psychologists, is maintaining a high level of ethics while at the same time performing research in clinical psychology environments. However, by leveraging advancements gained through controlled experimental research, and taking in and applying the discoveries from related disciplines such as the medical fields and other social sciences, clinical psychology can advance substantially and continue to increase the understanding and broaden knowledge surrounding how the mind and body are linked together.

Clinical Psychology Careers and Other Mental Health Professions

There are many variations or types of psychology professionals, and there are aspects that all of the psychology professions have in common. A comparison between clinical psychologists and psychiatrists will find that both are vary similar in their goals (applied psychological methods to aid patient mental distress) however clinical psychologists approach the subject with a focus on applicable psychological theory behind exhibited behavior whereas psychiatrists approach the subject with a focus on biological aspects that may be influencing behavior. Also, clinical psychologists typically possess either a Ph.D (which is more research focused) or a Psy.D, which is focused more on clinical practice, while psychiatrists possess a degree from medical school that includes a special focus and training with regard to psychological medicine. Other mental health professions include school practitioners (such as those that serve in special education) that routinely have masters level degrees, and social workers with master’s level degrees that and function in private practice as well as hospitals, schools, and as case workers. Guidance counseling is yet another example of a psychology profession that is comparable to clinical psychology that has similar education requirements. Each of the aforementioned disciplines aspires to use the maxims of therapy, psychology, and the knowledge of individual conduct to promote patient well being.


The core facets of clinical psychology, primarily that the mind and body are inseparable and that illness of the body could be influenced in part or in whole by the mind, have been around for thousands of years, first documented by Greek philosophers. However, through the genius of Wilhelm Wundt (who built the first psychology lab, also establishing psychology as a science), and the determination of Lightner Witmer (who introduced the first psychology clinic), the clinical psychology profession was established. Clinical psychology takes the theories of psychological science to the level of application, providing the mentally distressed with the help they need, similar to the assistance provided by a medical doctor for the physical body. And also similar to the medical fields, clinical psychology has and will continue to advance and evolve through scientific research and discovery, continuously providing new solutions that improve the lives of those that are mentally distressed.



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  1. Walsh and Frankland "The Next 10 Years: Some Reflections on Earlier Predictions for Counselling Psychology." Counselling Psychology Review. Volume 24 (2009): 38-42.

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