The Pioneers of Mental Health
The subject of mental health has become increasingly important in recent years. This is, in part, due to its wider acceptance as a topic for discussion, as well as the acknowledgement that 1 in 10 people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
Given the variety of mental health conditions and the varying degrees of severity, medical advancements in both treatment and diagnosis have been vital to ensuring patients are looked after in the best and most appropriate ways possible.
With this in mind, we decided to look at some for the most important figures in the advancements in mental health studies over the past 200 years and give them the recognition they deserve.
1849 – 1936: Ivan Pavlov (Pavlovian conditioning)
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who discovered Pavlovian conditioning (classical conditioning); undertaking one of the first systematic studies of the basic laws of learning. His discovery that dogs could learn to associate food with his lab assistant (a conditioned reflex) made it possible to study psychological activity objectively, rather than using subjective methods.
Pavlov’s work had a major unintended influence on the field of psychology, particularly on the development of behaviourism.
1856 – 1926: Emil Kraepelin (Psychopharmacology)
Emil Kraepelin was a German psychiatrist who is widely considered the founder of modern psychiatry and psychopharmacology. He studied mental illness in a large number of patients over many years and was one of the first to suggest that the primary reason for psychiatric disease was biological and genetic malfunction. Perhaps most important was his differentiation between ‘dementia praecox’ (schizophrenia) and manic depression (bipolar disorder).
His concepts of classification and diagnosis helped produce major diagnostic systems still used today.
1857 – 1939: Eugen Bleuler (Schizophrenia)
Eugen Bleuler was a Swiss psychiatrist who introduced the world to the term schizophrenia. Bleuler built upon Emil Kraepelin’s earlier definition of ‘dementia praecox’, emphasising that the splitting of psychic functioning is the essential feature of the condition. Through his careful observation of patients, he introduced new symptoms and two concepts vital to the analysis of schizophrenia: autism and ambivalence.
His book ‘The Textbook of Psychiatry’ was used as a key textbook in psychiatry for years following its publication.
1864 – 1915: Alois Alzheimer (Alzheimer’s dementia)
Alois Alzheimer was a German physician who first diagnosed Alzheimer’s dementia. Working closely with fellow psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, Alzheimer published many papers on diseases and conditions of the brain, before his famous lecture in 1906 where he identified ‘an unusual disease of the cerebral cortex’. Kraepelin later named this disease after Alzheimer.
Amazingly, today the pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is still generally based on the same investigative methods used by Alzheimer back then.
1882 – 1960: Melanie Klein (Child psychoanalysis)
Melanie Klein was an Austrian psychoanalyst whose groundbreaking theories on the infant mind had a significant impact on developmental psychology. She is considered to be the founder of child psychoanalysis, alongside fellow psychoanalyst, Anna Freud. Klein’s work differed to that of Anna Freud and as such, caused much controversy at the time.
Nevertheless, her extensive analysis of children’s play – the ‘play therapy technique’ – is still widely used in psychotherapy today.
1894 – 1981: Leo Kanner (Early infantile autism)
Leo Kanner is an Austrian psychiatrist who was one of the world’s first child psychiatrists. He developed the first child-specific psychiatric service in the US and was the first to identify autism in children, introducing the label, ‘early infantile autism’. His textbook, ‘Child Psychiatry’ was the first textbook in English to focus on psychiatry in children.
Kanner identified the essential features of autism and much of what he observed in his patients is echoed in current diagnosis of the disorder.
1896 – 1980: Jean Piaget (Cognitive development)
Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist who developed an interest in psychoanalysis and was the first to make a systematic study of cognitive development in children. Through detailed observation studies, Piaget showed that they think in strikingly different ways to adults, rather than just less competently, which was the common assumption.
His theories made him known as one of the most influential 20th-century researchers in developmental psychology and are widely studied today by students of both education and psychology.
1902 – 1987: Carl Rogers (Humanistic psychology)
Carl Rogers is considered to be one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research and the humanistic approach to psychology. The American psychologist’s belief in self-actualisation, which takes place when a person achieves their goals, was one of his most important contributions. This move away from traditional psychoanalysis and into client-centered psychotherapy was groundbreaking.
Rogers spent his last decade applying his theories to situations of social conflict, which led to his Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1987.
1905 – 1997: Viktor Frankl (Existential analysis)
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who founded the existential analysis/logotherapy approach to psychotherapy. Frankl lived during World War II and amazingly survived four death camp experiences. It is partly this that helped develop his belief that a person is motivated by an inner pull to find meaning. This revolutionary approach led him to become a leading psychiatrist in Europe and his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ about his experience continues to inspire generations of readers across the world.
1921 – Present: Aaron Beck (Cognitive behavioural therapy)
Aaron Beck is an American psychiatrist who pioneered the use of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat depression; a method that has since been found to be effective at treating a variety of disorders.
His self-report measures of depression and anxiety, including the Beck Depression Inventory, are some of the most widely used diagnostic measures today. Beck now presides over the Beck Institute with his daughter, providing training and services in CBT.
1941 – Present: Uta Frith (Autism and dyslexia)
Uta Frith is a German developmental psychologist who has pioneered much of the current research into autism and dyslexia. Uta was one of the first to suggest that autism was biologically caused, rather than as a result of cold parenting, and has contributed to the transformation of developmental psychology into developmental cognitive neuroscience.
Frith retired in 2006, but continues her research, and is currently writing a book on human sociability with her neuropsychologist husband.
1950 – Present: Norman E. Rosenthal (Seasonal affective disorder)
Norman Rosenthal is a South African psychiatrist who was the first to describe seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is now known to affect millions of people around the world and his ‘light therapy’ technique to treat the condition has since helped many patients.
Rosenthal is the author of several popular books and also works as a motivational speaker. He continues his research and also teaches as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University in America.