Early Historical Roots Of Behavior Therapy

Attempts to help people solve behavioral problems, with maneuvers similar to those used in today's behavior therapy have a long history. Pliny the Elder, in first-century Rome tried to cure alcohol abuse by putting putrid spiders in the drinking glasses of alcohol abusers. Today that maneuver would be called aver-sive conditioning. The eighteenth-century ''Wild Boy of Averyron'' was taught spoken language with maneuvers that today would be called modeling, prompting, positive reinforcement, and/or withholding of positive reinforcers. A nineteenth-century equivalent of today's prison warden, Alexander Maconchi, used what today would be called a point system or a token economy as the main basis for getting inmates of a

Royal British penal colony to obey the prison rules. In the same century a French physician treated a case of obsessional thoughts with maneuvers that today would be called thought stoppage and/or reciprocal inhibition. Still, as a field of health improvement, behavior therapy is less than fifty years old.

The direct history of behavior therapy is inextricably interwoven with the history of psychology, which was its surrogate mother. Psychology resulted from the intellectual revolution of a group of scientifically minded European philosophers. They abandoned philosophy and started psychology, the science of the structure of the mind and consciousness. From their research focus came the name or their school of psychology: Structuralism. Their main research technique was structured, personal introspection. Their goal was to make psychology a "pure" natural science, on an equal "footing" with the other natural sciences. They were the first experimental psychologists; but they showed no interest in investigating human behavioral health problems.

Wilhelm Wundt started the structuralistic psychology in Germany. After training with him, Edward R. Titchener brought structuralism to America in the late nineteenth century. Passive, structured introspection of one's own mind, however, proved to be unproductive. Envy of the natural scientists soon developed among American psychologists, because unlike psychologists, the natural scientists had concrete, objectively observable constructs. Those constructs could be manipulated with satisfying predictable and reportable results. Those results could be recognized and objectively replicated, and they could produce honors and recognition for the scientists who discovered them. The charismatic Cattell, of the psychology laboratory at the prestigious Columbia University, continually made this boast. The research in his laboratory was as independent of introspection as was in the research in physics or zoology. The rapidly increasing general professional interest in doing that type of research led to the first American psychological rebellion, which occurred early in the twentieth century.

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