TrOn – A brief introduction to the history of psychiatry

Dr Yasir Hameed and Dr Andrew Tarbuck and reviewed by Dr Alison Haggett and Dr Claire Hilton

60 minutes

November 2021

TrOn learning module

TRON history of psychiatry.jpg

Why bother learning about the history of psychiatry?

It is often said that it is almost impossible to understand current psychiatric practice without a knowledge of its historical origins and how the practice has changed over time.

Gaining a grasp of the social and cultural context of the development of psychiatric institutions and treatments can help you to understand how the concept of mental illness has changed in the continued debates about psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.

Although mental illness is as old as humanity, psychiatry as a medical profession is relatively young and is changing rapidly. Studying its origins will enable you to understand the current thinking and practice as well as to predict future changes.

Some criticisms of current thinking and practice originated with developments in biological treatments. Learning about the discoveries of these early treatments and the controversies they created will help you to view these criticisms within a historical context.

Many abuses were committed in the name of psychiatry. It is important to acknowledge the past both in its positive and negative aspects.

The history of psychiatry in the MRCPsych exam

Although the history of psychiatry is not specifically included in the MRCPsych syllabus, many topics in the syllabus require an understanding of the historical context.

Knowledge of historical facts and the origin of treatments in psychiatry will help you to prepare better for the MRCPsych exams (both written and practical). Questions may not obviously relate to the history of psychiatry, but the knowledge you will acquire here will provide you with a basic understanding of various historical aspects and may help you to choose the best option in multiple choice questions. In practical exams, it may help you to answer questions from patients or carers about various treatments.


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