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Brief History of Clinical Psychology

It is known that our life is full of stresses and unexpected events which can easily damage the psychical equilibrium of any individual. However, it is easy to avoid the serious consequences of stresses and terrifying events as well as mental disorders and illnesses, abnormal behavior and psychiatric problems if an individual uses the services of the clinical psychologist. Today clinical psychology is considered to be one of the most important subfields of psychology. There are some situations when an individual suffers from some psychological disorder and needs some helpful advice to solve this or that problem. Of course, family and friends can give some advice, but in most cases it does not help to solve the existing psychological problem. In this case, the assistance of a professional in the sphere of clinical psychology is of great necessity. The history of clinical psychology dates back to the late nineteenth century.

My goal in this paper is to address the developmental history of clinical psychology and to explore some significant ideas of the outstanding researchers in this field of psychology.


Clinical psychology is a branch of psychology which studies, assesses and cures various mental disorders and illnesses, inadequate behavior and different psychiatric problems of individuals. This field of medical science not only integrates the science of psychology with the appropriate treatment methods that help to solve some complex problems, but also it helps to find some preventive measures which will help individuals to feel confident in different life situations.

It is known that this term clinical psychology was first introduced by the American psychologist Lightner Witmer in 1907. In his psychological research, Lightner Witmer gave the following definition of this field of medical science: “clinical psychology is the study of individuals, by observation or experimentation, with the intention of promoting change”. (Hall & Llewelyn, 2006, p.2)

Although clinical psychology is considered to be a rather new field of psychology, its roots dates back to the late 19-th century. It is known from the historical data on clinical psychology that the practical application of psychological knowledge was effectively used when the main principles of animal and human perception were first implemented in educational practice by Lightner Witmer. He was the first psychologist who opened the first psychological clinic in 1896. The initial practical application of psychological methods was developed into application of special treatment methods to help patients with various mental health disorders. The development of clinical psychology was greatly influenced by different treatment principles of psychoanalysis where the unconscious functioning played an important role. Of course, there were great changes in clinical psychology, for example some new forms of clinical treatment appeared in the 20-th century, and psychoanalysis was turned to psychotherapy. It is known that the evolution of clinical psychology as a branch of science and profession dates to the post-WWII period, 1945-1950. (Ludy, 2007, p.12)

According to the historical data, the first psychological clinic was opened at the University of Pennsylvania in 1800s. However, the specialists of the first psychological clinic did not pay much attention to the special treatment methods. It is known that the development of both diagnosis and treatment methods is related to the post-World War II period because most of the soldiers who took part in the war actions needed effective psychiatric treatment. It is interesting to notice that the early clinical psychology was based on the effects of some elements of human body on the mind, for example different facial features, shape of the head, structure of hair and so on. Moreover, it is known that the work of clinical psychologists was not highly appreciated in society of the 19-th century. Some people even disfavored this science because they considered that inexact science should not be developed. The major reason was concluded in the fact that it was impossible to duplicate the experiments. ( Ludy, 2007, p.24)

However, the opponents of clinical psychology changed their opinion when the soldiers began to come back from World War II and most of them suffered from the PTSS, or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The work of clinical psychologists became of great importance as thousands of soldiers needed effective treatment. What is more interesting is that the female clinical psychologists were suspended from work with those soldiers who returned from war. They were engaged in another sphere of activity. The female clinical psychologists concentrated their attention on the effects of war for those stayed at home and did not take part in war actions. They organized the National Council of Women Psychologists. (Hall & Llewelyn, 2006, p.31)

The development of clinical psychology led to the development of a great number of educational institutions in 1960s, where future specialists were trained. So, this branch of science has been continuously developing in order to meet the needs of a changing society and provide psychological assistance in a proper way.

Purpose of clinical psychology

It is known that the main purpose of clinical psychology is to promote the efficiency of life and the happiness of the individuals who need the assistance of clinical psychologist. A great variety of different activities should be introduced by the psychologist in order to solve the patient’s problem. Traditionally, in clinical psychology much attention has been paid to both the diagnosis and evaluation. Moreover, the psychological procedures of evaluation can represent invaluable information for the psychologist whose major goal is to understand and prevent the psychologically-based disorder of the patient and to promote his further personal development and well-being. In order to achieve the major purpose of clinical psychology, it is necessary to use psychological assessment and appropriate psychotherapy. Besides, clinical psychologists are engage in research work, teaching practice, consulting services, forensic testimony, and program development. (Spring, 2007, p.2


As the issues concerning mental disorders, abnormal behavior and psychological problems have always been explored and discussed by the clinical psychologists from all over the world, there are many outstanding people who contributed a lot to the development of this branch of psychology and whose theories helped in treatment of thousands of mentally ill people. Among them are Johann Jacob Guggenbuhl, the famous Swiss theorist who made great contributions to the development of treatment methods of people with mental retardation, and William Tuke, the prominent English theorist whose contributions are connected with effective treatment of the insane.

Theorist Johann Guggenbuhl (1816-1863) and his contributions

Johann Yacob Guggenbuhl is known as a founder of the first residential treatment facility at Abendberg, Switzerland for those patients who suffered from mental retardation. In 1842, the young Swiss physician decided to help people with mental disabilities and opened a special training school for such patients. He believed that special health programs and training would help people with mental retardation to improve their mental health. He developed special educational programs for children with cretinism. Besides, there were also special programs of nutrition and physical exercises. It is known that the school was called Abdenberg. It was located on the mountain, about 4,000 feet above sea level. Johann Guggenbuhl was sure that the lower altitudes influenced the development of cretinism. The training school was a great success, but Guggenbuhl had no opportunity to continue his training. He travelled a lot and could not pay much attention to the patients that is why the school was closed. However, Johann Guggenbuhl’s early success connected with effective educational programs for people with mental retardation influenced the development of clinical psychology and inspired other specialists in this field of psychology. (Plante, 2007, p.36)

Theorist William Tuke (1732-1822) and his contributions

It is known that William Tuke played an important role in the developmental process of clinical psychology. He founded a private mental hospital which was called the Retreat at York. His work influenced the further development of moral treatment. Moreover, his work affected the further activities and studies of many psychiatrics. Among them are Robert Gardiner Hill, and John Canoly. It is known that Tuke’s major contributions are concluded in the use of more human treatment of the insane than it was required in the 18-th century. His health institution the Retreat was focused on special treatment methods. William Tuke tried to make his patients feel free. He housed mentally ill patients in a pleasant environment with decent nutrition. Moreover, he adopted a special treatment program for the insane. (Plante, 2007, p.49)

In addition, the model of care William Tuke used in his work with the insane is known as moral treatment. The famous theorist adhered to the principles of Quaker testimonies to equality when the mentally ill people had the status of equal human beings and were treated with respect, gentleness and humanity. At that time, his treatment methods were considered to be revolutionary. William Tuke proved that The Retreat could help the insane to get the value of personal relationships. Besides, he proved the significance of useful occupation and physical environment for those people who suffered from mental disorders.

The philosophy of William Tuke’s hospital the Retreat played an important role in the development of clinical psychology because it promoted more humane care and moved forward the concept of the development of the therapeutic community. All the above mentioned contributions are important for the treatment of mental health and delinquency in the twenty first century. (Plante, 2007, p.51)


The role of clinical psychologist in the process of treatment is an important one because he helps mentally ill people to find solutions to the serious problems, to get rid of the consequences of stresses and terrifying events, to improve abnormal behavior and so on.

Definition of the term clinical psychologist

The term clinical psychologist stands for the mental health specialist who is specially trained to diagnose and treat people with mental disorders. It is known that clinical psychologists use special psychological techniques in order to provide effective treatment. Among the most popular techniques are the following ones: cognitive behavior therapy, behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy and so on. It is clear that any qualified clinical psychologist should have enough knowledge in order to apply the best psychological technique in this or that case. Besides psychotherapy, clinical psychologists are engaged in researches, psychological testing and teaching practices. (Neimeyer et al., 2011, p.3)

Populations that clinical psychologists work with

It is known that clinical psychologists work with a wide range of populations. First of all, they work with individuals of different age groups including infants, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly people. Secondly, clinical psychologists work with couples of different sex orientation. Thirdly, they work with families of different types including traditional, nontraditional. Fourthly, clinical psychologists work with working groups in organizations and systems. (Neimeyer et al., 2011, p.5)

Major methods used in clinical psychology

Today, due to the rapid development of clinical psychology as a science, one can find several methods which are effectively used by the majority of modern clinical psychologists. They include research, assessment, treatment and prevention.

Clinical psychology research is considered to be an important area of psychological investigation which influences the well-being of individuals. Clinical psychologists conduct psychological researches in order to understand, treat and prevent different negative human conditions which influence the individuals’ life, family relations and so on. Some significant results which are received from different psychological researches and studies help clinical psychologists to develop some new effective interventions and techniques in order to apply them into practice. The reliable results of researches help to improve lives of mentally ill people, to mend their troubled relationships with family and friends, to eliminate addictions, and to help with other mental health problems. Clinical psychology researches permit to combine science with practical knowledge. (Pilgrim & Rogers, 2006, p.34)

Another area of clinical psychology is assessment. It is known that most part of clinical psychologist’s job is connected with assessment, or with the use of valid testing. Assessments are represented in the form of tests which can have different trends and variations. For example, intelligence tests, achievement tests, vocational tests and others have the major goal – to assess aptitude of the individual, his skill levels for this or that job, to realize his career goals, his interests, and to determine his type of personality. Moreover, clinical psychologists’ assessment process can include interviews with the individuals who proceed with the treatment, assessment of their medical records and special clinical observations. A good assessment method helps clinical psychologists to understand the effectiveness of their psychological treatments and interventions.

The other two areas of clinical psychology include treatment and prevention. These approaches are based on the use of appropriate psychological techniques and psychotherapies that help to evaluate the individual’s psychological problems and disorders and to find the alternative treatment methods. The most popular psychotherapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy. Prevention psychological techniques used by clinical psychologists help to prevent serious consequences of different mental disorders. (Pilgrim & Rogers, 2006, p.41)

Common two mental disorders

It is known that mental disorders are classified into several categories, such as organic brain disorder, mood and anxiety disorder, and personality disorder. Today, the most wide spread mental disorders are diagnosed as Schizophrenia and Bi-polar disease.

Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder which is included in the category of personality disorder. Those people who suffer from schizophrenia have some symptoms that last longer than six-seven months. These symptoms include delusions, and hallucinations. Moreover, this psychotic disorder can severely affect the brain and thinking processes of the individual. Those people who suffer from schizophrenia have problems in thinking rationally. They cannot evaluate the situation and their judgments and opinions are impaired. It is very difficult for them to perform their everyday duties in a proper way. However, there is an appropriate treatment for this disorder. As the most prevalent symptoms of schizophrenia are usually delusions and hallucinations, clinical psychologist use proper methods to treat this disorder. They use psychotherapy, medication treatment, and social support. Besides, there are some other symptoms, such as strange behavior of individuals, lack of personal hygiene, no interest in doing something, the use of strange speech patterns which are difficult to understand, constant mood swings and so on.

Bi-polar disease is in the category of mood and anxiety disorders. This disorder can be so mild that other people might not even notice that the patient suffers from it. The major causes for this disease are some negative situations, such as traumatic events, sexual abuse, or genetic problems. The major symptoms are emotional instability, poor concentration, low self-esteem, loneliness and apathy. The treatment includes medication and counseling therapy. (Pilgrim & Rogers, 2006, p.57)

Statistics on people with mental illnesses

According to the statistical data represented by the World Health Organization, about 25% of individuals suffer from mental disorders and other psychological problems. The total number of mentally ill people in both developed and developing countries is about 450 million including 154 million people who suffer from depression, 25 million people who suffer from schizophrenia, 91 million people who suffer from alcohol use disorder and 15 million drug use disorder.(ASHA International)

Clinical Psychology in the 20-th century

Clinical psychology in the 20-th century was developed as profession. In the USA, a mental hygiene movement had the major goal – to prevent mental disorders. The consequences of World War I and World War II provided the creation of a new psychiatric manual for categorizing different mental disorders, the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Besides, the International Classification of Diseases had a section on mental disorders. In addition, the term stress was applied to mental disorders. New types of therapy, such as lobotomies, insulin shock therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and the “neuroleptic” chlorpromazine were invented and successfully applied in treatment in the 20-th century. Due to the rapid deinstitutionalization which took place in the West, the isolated psychiatric hospitals were replaced with community mental health services. Some new types of psychiatric medication were effectively used in the 20-th century, for example, “psychic energizers”, lithium, Benzodiazepines and others. (Plante, 2007, p.89)


In conclusion, it is necessary to say that clinical psychology plays an important role in our life because today it is very difficult to avoid stresses and psychological problems. The broad historical overview represented in this paper proves the fact that clinical psychology is constantly developing. The role of clinical psychologists is very important for our society because they help individuals to cope with difficult situations and to improve their psychological state.



ASHA International, Official Site, 2011. Startling Statistics About Mental Illnesses. Retrieved from:<http://www.myasha.org/node/12>
Hall, J. & Llewelyn, S. (2006). What is Clinical Psychology? 4th Edition. UK: Oxford University Press
Ludy, B. (2007). A Brief History of Modern Psychology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
Neimeyer, G.J., Taylor, J.M., Wear, D.M., Buyukgoze-Kavas, A.(2011) How special are the specialties? Workplace settings in counseling and clinical psychology in the United States. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. Abingdon: 2011. Vol.24, Issue 1. pg. 43 Retrieved from: <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=2346876191&sid=5&Fmt=2&clientId=29440&RQT=309&VName=PQD>
Pilgrim, D., Rogers, A. (2006). A Sociology of Mental Health and Illness. Open University Press.
Plante, T. (2007). Contemporary Clinical Psychology. New York Wiley Press.
Spring, B. (2007) Evidence-based practice in clinical psychology: What it is, why it matters; what you need to know. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol.63(7).