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History of Psychology
The history of psychology begins with the philosophy of antiquity and develops into a separate subject in the late 1800s.
- The first comprehensive psychological theory was psychoanalysis. The goal of psychoanalysis was to understand the unconscious soul life.
- Psychodynamic theory is a continuation of psychoanalysis that placed more emphasis on social factors.
- Behaviorism was developed in the early 1900s as a counterweight to psychoanalysis and emphasized the study of observable phenomena. The research was carried out in the animal laboratories.
- In the 1960s, humanistic psychology came as a reaction to behavioral science theories. Humanistic psychology emphasized the person’s own experiences, choices and values in understanding the human psyche.
The philosophical beginning
The history of psychology begins with the philosophy of antiquity (about 500 BCE to 500 BCE). Plato, who lived in the 300s BCE. believed that the soul was a separate part of man, separate from the body and completely free. His student Aristotle disagreed partly with his teacher, believing that the body and the soul were a whole. Aristotle believed the soul was divided in two; one was inextricably linked to the body while the other was free to leave the body. Plato was the origin of what we today call a dualistic view of man and that has dominated the debate in the psychology field up to the present day.
In the Middle Ages (around 500–1500 AD), dualism gained a boost, not least because of the importance of the church throughout society. It separated body and soul, and was thus on Plato’s side, but took the story of the soul a step further by postulating the fate of the soul to end either in heaven or in hell. So far, psychology has not become a science of its own. It was still part of philosophy and was thus influenced by the general philosophical discourse.
Psychology was assisted in its development from the Renaissance (the latter part of the 16th century) when a view developed that the soul and the body were one, called monism. Monism made it easier for psychology to study thinking, a phenomenon that is perceived as closely related, or as part of the soul. When body and soul were understood as one, one could more easily study thinking by studying human behavior.
In the mid-17th century, John Locke, along with others who belonged to empiricism (experiential science), argued that true knowledge can only be gained through what we know, not through thinking and reason alone. True science gets its knowledge only through what we can observe. This laid the foundation for the modern natural sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology. In the 18th century Francis Bacon created new ideals of science by studying nature directly and accumulating knowledge through observations of single events. He believed that “the only possible research method had to depend on having the eye firmly focused on the facts of nature and simply making it appear as it is”. This attitude eventually became of great importance to psychology as a separate subject.
Psychology becomes a separate subject
By the end of the 19th century, psychology was established as a separate subject. Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig to study basic psychological processes such as sensations, consciousness and emotions, and has therefore been called the “father of psychology”. He believed that these phenomena could be studied directly through introspection, a term derived from the Latin word “introspectare” and meaning “to look into”. Introspection means that you observe and report your own experiences, such as thoughts and feelings, to the researcher.
This leads to the first comprehensive psychological theory. In the 1880s, physician Josef Breuer became interested in what he called hysterical symptoms. He imagined that these symptoms were triggered by displaced traumatic experiences that were unconscious. These unconscious experiences could become conscious by interviewing the person in hypnosis, and the patient could get rid of the symptoms by reacting to these displaced emotions, a process he called catharsis (cleansing).
In the early 1900s, the physician Sigmund Freud continued these theories in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis had the study of unconscious soul life as the goal of their studies, but to study soul life one must have access to soul processes. Freud used Wilhelm Wundt’s introspection as a research method, but he developed another method to gain access to the displaced memories. Mental disorders came from conflicts in the subconscious, and one could gain insight into these conflicts by having the patient freely associate with the experiences of his or her life. He therefore developed the method of free association where the patient lies on a couch with the psychoanalyst sitting out of reach. In this way, he also gained insight into the patient’s dreams, which he believed were an important source of the unconscious. When the conflicts were brought into consciousness, the mental disorders would be dampened.
During the introspection experiments, he discovered that the patients had a built-in resistance to remembering the repressed memories. This, he explained, is that we are equipped with defense mechanisms, such as psychological techniques to protect us from anxiety and pain in the subconscious. The experience of the therapy room contributed to the development of Freud’s theories. The basis of these theories was the thesis of the operation, especially the importance of sexual drive for the psyche.
Freud’s theories have been retained by many of his followers, but his most famous students, Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung, Karen Horney, Anna Freud and Erich Fromm, broke with Freud and made their own directions.
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