The History of Psychotherapy

The history of psychotherapy stretches back a long way. The ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece had very clear ideas about mental health especially about depression and dementia. Buddhism also has ideas about the cause of mental suffering coming from ignorance. Traditional Chinese Medicine makes links between the organs and the emotions and provides techniques for working with these via acupuncture.

The great Islamic civilisations also contributed to psychotherapy by introducing the ideas of mental health and using medicine to treat the mentally ill.

Throughout the medieval period mental illness was associated with possession or was seen as the sins of the person being the cause. Hence religion and religious practices where seen as the main ways of treating people. These could often be very brutal or involve death.

Towards the end of the 18th century however things had begun to change. Franz Mesmer developed a new technique called Mesmerism that what a primitive form of hypnotherapy. This was the first time that a more scientific approach was developed.

Throughout the 19th century this work was built on and some of the long held views such as possession where challenged and dispelled. Towards the end of the century Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalytic psychotherapy began to practice in Vienna.

Freud had the revolutionary idea that we were influenced by basic drives that we were mostly unaware of. He called this our unconscious and he developed an approach which enabled the psychotherapist do delve into this unconscious and help the patient become free from these drives.

Freud had a number of followers who broke away from him early in the 20th century, the most notable being Carl Jung. Jung made a number of changes to psychoanalytic thought by proposing that as well as our personal unconscious we were also influenced by a collective unconscious. This manifested in our dreams and behaviours as well as myths and legends. He also had a new understanding of dreams which contributed to his approach to psychotherapy which he called analytical psychology.

As the 20th century developed there were other major contributions. Humanistic psychotherapy developed out of Carl Rogers person centred approach which said that the person not the psychotherapist was the real expert and that the relationship between the therapist and client was the most important thing. Other humanistic approaches include Gestalt Psychotherapy and psychosynthesis.

At the same time other approaches where also developing which were based on observing how our behaviours and conditioned. These became the behaviourists. From the work of Aaron Beck who researched the effects of thoughts on depression cognitive therapy was born. Throughout the 1970’s &80-‘s these two approaches where researched and combined into Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy.

One approach to working with trauma which now also has a lot of research supporting it is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing or EMDR. This was developed by Francine Shapiro from a chance discovery in the 1980’s.

Of course there are many other approaches that have not been mentioned here. In fact the are now a plethora of approaches which are bewildering to most people not trained as psychotherapists. However the history of their development can make fascinating reading.

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