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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

module:Measuring the unmeasurable

An introduction to psychology

page:The biological model

The biological (medical) model emerged in the late nineteenth century with the discovery that brain damage could result in thought and mood disturbances and bizarre behaviour. This idea of abnormal behaviour as a disease was an improvement on earlier views, which attributed abnormal behaviour to possession by demons or moral corruption. However, certain sectors of society still maintained the more primitive view and some do so even today.


Canvas and leather strait jacket, c.1930. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

The more enlightened view resulted in more humane treatment, because individuals were not held responsible for their actions. Patients were treated in hospitals rather than being sent to prison or being burned as 'witches'. The advancement of a medical model was seen to provide psychiatry with a means of functioning outside the asylum and to establish a secure professional structure.

The critical assumption of the biological (medical) model is that abnormal behaviour may be likened to a disease. In other words, the mental disorder is viewed as illness due to a biochemical imbalance. The model draws on an analogy between physical disease and mental illness.


Philippe Pinel unshackles the mentally ill at the the Bicètre Asylum in Paris. picture zoom © Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

Within medicine, each physical illness is generally characterised by a particular set of symptoms. A doctor attempting to help a sick patient will typically seek to reach a diagnosis by comparing the patient's particular symptoms to the characteristics of various illnesses.

Somatic (biological) treatment

Somatic treatments follow from biological explanations for abnormal behaviour. Somatic treatments are therefore designed to redress biochemical imbalance.

This is achieved through three different methods:

  • Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Psychosurgery
  • Chemical drugs (chemotherapy)

We will explore these methods in the next sections of this learning module.


Inside the Royal Hospital of Bethlehem (Bedlam), Moorfields, London, 1860. picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library


Resource Descriptions

Canvas and leather strait jacket, c.1930.
Philippe Pinel unshackles the mentally ill at the the Bicètre Asylum in Paris.
Inside the Royal Hospital of Bethlehem (Bedlam), Moorfields, London, 1860.
Guided Tour
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