Category: Clinical Psychology

A Brief History of Clinical Psychology

Have you ever wondered how Clinical Psychology came to be what it is today?  You’re not alone!  We thought it might be interesting to give you a brief history of Clinical Psychology to help give our patients a better understanding of what we do and how we can help you!

The birth of modern and experimental psychology began in 1879 in the laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.  This is often discussed as the birth because of the deep links to research and experimentation in Clinical Psychology.  The first psychological clinic was opened in 1896 at the University of Pennsylvania under the supervision of Lighner Witmer.  Witmer treated a boy that struggled with spelling, which made the university known for treating learning disabilities.  That same year, Sigmund Freud first coined the term “psychoanalysis,” making 1896 the official beginning of Clinical Psychology.  Within 10 years, several Clinical Psychology clinics were opened, however psychiatrists and neurologist remained the standard professionals to treat mental illness and distress.

The term “Clinical Psychology” was born in 1917 when the American Association of Clinical Psychologists was formed.  Though this organization dissipated, the American Psychological Association (APA) soon formed a Clinical Psychology branch and began to offer a certification.  This branch is now known as Division 12 and is the leading professional organization in the field.

A surge in the use of Clinical Psychology and psychologists occurred during World War II when the military relied on them to treat soldiers who returned from war with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (formerly shell-shock).   These soldiers began to show significant improvement, giving the professional great credibility.  The National Association of Women Psychologists was soon formed to address the stress of the war on families.  The United States started a trend in this area as Britain started a similar program within their military that was modeled after the American approach.

In order to train clinical psychologists, the Veterans Administration funded PhD training programs at various universities.  Because the clinical practice piece was missing from these programs, the first to offer a practice-based PhD was the University of Illinois in 1968.  This program provided a structure for other universities to follow, which led to the development of the Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) degree, first recognized in 1973.

The field of Clinical Psychology as grown dramatically since the 1970s and has expanded into a variety of other fields such as criminal justice, sports, and health.  It has achieved greater success as time goes on with more research awareness and acceptance, better understanding of cultural differences, advancements in psychotropic medications and it’s recognition within managed care.  We hope this gives you a comprehensive, yet brief, understanding of the history of Clinical Psychology and we invite you keep researching for further information!

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