visit Jillians page


                               The Ancients:
                 Theories and Therapies for Psychopathology

                               Jillian Fecteau


     Psychopathology has arguably been in existence since the beginning of

     There are several general theories of psychopathology which existed
during classical antiquity: DEMONOLOGY was the main ideology in existence
prior to, during and following the Greek and Roman era; the BIOLOGICAL
MOVEMENT which considered the psychological illness to be caused by
biological rather than spiritual causes; and the Philosophers theories,
including PLATO and ARISTOTLE.



     If you have any comments or suggestions about this paper, please
contact me at You can also visit my
 . Or see my Reference List.


A Brief Description of PSYCHOPATHOLOGY

     Psychopathology, also known as mental illness, is a general term for a
vast range of disorders involving the behaviour of an individual. This can
range from neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy,
to very common affective disorders, including depression and anxiety, to
more elaborate forms for instance, schizophrenia and multiple personality

     Part of the problem in defining psychopathology, is due to what society
deems as abnormal. Specifically, how much is one willing to withstand until
they decide that something is wrong. This may seem quite concrete when
observing a seizure, or an individual in a manic state however, the lines
become much more blurry when societal norms are changing. For example, up
until very recently, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, which
physicians and therapists attempted (some still attempting) to cure.

     The mechanisms of different psychopathologies are being uncovered at an
extremely fast rate, causing the general term "psychopathology" to be rather
useless. However, for the current purpose, in describing the ancients'
beliefs regarding the mental illness, a more general term is necessary
because of the differences in classification.



     The demonological model, as an explanation of psychopathology, has, in
all likelihood, existed since the beginnings of humanity. This theory of
mental illness states that the causes of mental illness are due to "spirits"
entering the body and causing the host to become possessed. The cure,
according to this theory, would be to release the spirit from the
individual. The methods for this were accomplished in several different ways
including trephinning, exorcism , and a number of purgative techniques ,
that would make the host's body unpleasant for the spirit. These techniques
were usually left for possessions that were considered to be evil.
Individuals possessed by good deities were considered with awe and
reverence, often given places of high stature in the society.


     Trephinning was a technique used in the prehistoric period. A small
round hole in the skull would be made in order that the evil spirits could
be released. Ironically, this technique could have been successful for
certain kinds of psychopathology. The hole in the skull would have reduced
the pressure on the brain caused by edema, or swelling, eliminating the
peculiar behaviour, or "releasing the spirit".



     A technique that has been used all throughout recorded history and in
some regions is still being performed. This was, and still is, the primary
treatment used under the demonological model. This method, performed by
shamans and priests, varied between different regions and religions.
However, the most common methods would include, "prayer, incantation,
noisemaking, and the use of various horrible tasting concoctions" to make
the host's body an undesirable place to reside (Coleman et al., 1980).

     Although not very effective, this technique was the most widely used.


Purgative Methods

     This technique was used on its own, and in conjunction with exorcism to
rid an individual's body of an evil spirit. The logic behind this technique
was to make the host an undesirable place to inhabit, or to poison the
spirit in order that it would have to leave. Unfortunately, ridding the
individual of a spirit by this means sometimes meant poisoning the
individual, causing his own death. An example of one of the "potions"
devised to give to the possessed individual is a concoction of sheeps' dung
mixed with wine. A variety of herbs and plants were also noted for their
"therapeutic" effects.



     The notion that psychopathology was caused by a possession of a spirit
or god was the prevailing theory of mental illness throughout history. This
explanation of mental illness is understandable considering that to the
"primitive" mind, all of the unexplainable phenomena surrounding them was
attributed to deities. Therefore, an individual behaving strangely would be
interpreted as being possessed.

     The possession could either be considered in nature good , or evil. The
decision depended on the symptoms displayed by the individual. If the
features of the possession were thought to be "mystical" or have some kind
of religious significance - then the possession was considered good.
However, if the individual had symptoms that were less than desirable, as
was most often the case, the individual's possession was considered bad or

 Good Spirits

     To be possessed by a good spirit was very beneficial to the individual.
They were treated with great reverence and often became priests, or
prophets. Socrates, as described in Plato's Phaedrus, considers madness to
be a divine blessing.

     The greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness
     that is heaven sent. It was when they were mad that the prophetess
     at Delphi and the priestess at Dodona achieved so much for which
     both states and individuals in Greece were thankful; when sane they
     did little or nothing. As for Sibyl and others who by the power of
     inspired prophecy have so often foretold the future to so many, and
     guided then aright, I need not dwell on what is obvious to everyone.
     Plato's Phaedrus

 Evil Spirits

     Most cases of mental illness were considered to be caused by possession
of an evil spirit. Greek literature has endless examples of psychopathology
being attributed to the evil doings of a Keres, a nymph, or god. The
Hippocratic book on The Sacred Disease, lists the popular explanations for

     If the patient imitate a goat, if he roar, or suffer convulsions in the
     right side, they say that the Mother of the Gods is to blame. If he
     utter a piercing loud cry, they liken him to a horse and blame Poseidon
     Should he pass some excrement, as often happens under the stress of
     the disease, the surname Enodia is applied. If it be more frequent and
     thinner, like that of birds, it is Apollo Nomius. If he foam at the
     and kick, Ares has to blame. When at night occur fears and terrors,
     delirium, jumpings from the bed and rushings out of doors they say
     Hecate is attacking or that heros are assaulting.
     (Rosen, 1968)