Play Therapy, Historical Development. Roots in Special Education (page 2)
Treatment of children is a relatively new concept in the mental health field. The child mental health movement appears to be a phenomenon of the 20th century (Kanner, 1948). The first attempt to understand child behavior was not in the area of mental health, but rather in the field of mental retardation.
Roots in Special Education
In 1799 Jean Itard attempted to educate the Wild Boy of Aveyron, who was thought to be raised by wolves. Itard thought that by teaching the Wild Boy to read, write, and function in society, he could establish that nurture is greater than nature in the educational process. Although Itard was only moderately successful in teaching the Wild Boy to function in society, he was successful in establishing a methodology for teaching the mentally retarded. Edwin Seguin in the 19th century continued and expanded work with the mentally retarded by research into causes, nature, and treatment (Achenbach, 1974). Residential schools were built for the mentally retarded in the United States. The first school for the mentally retarded was built in Massachusetts in 1848, followed by a second in New York in 1851. These institutions differed in that they were educational facilities rather than asylums. The initial goal was to train the retarded to function in society and then to return them to their homes. Although the goal of the so-called state school was to develop functioning individuals, by the end of the 19th century, the school had become a custodial treatment facility (Morris & Kratochwill, 1983).
Mental Health and the Child Guidance Movement
In 1901, the juvenile psychopathic institute was established in Chicago under the leadership of William Healy. The institute concentrated on studying juvenile offenders. Social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists worked together in an interdisciplinary setting on particular cases, examining the multiple factors contributing to each child’s behavior disorders.
In 1906, Lightner Witmer established the first child guidance clinic at the University of Pennsylvania preceding the publication of Beers’s book, which provided the impetus of concern for mental health care.
Early in the 20th century, several concerns in mental health came to the forefront: the mental hygiene movement, child guidance clinics, and dynamic psychiatry. Clifford Beers (1908) published A Mind That Found Itself. His book related his experiences when he was hospitalized for depression and suicidal tendencies. Beers described the maltreatment of patients in state hospitals. The book was widely read, raising the level of awareness of the deplorable state of mental health treatment.
Especially significant was the interest of many prominent professionals and their advocacy of the need for change. The National Committee for Mental Hygiene was formed to provide information to the public concerning state hospital conditions, to improve mental health treatment methods, and to sponsor research on the prevention and treatment of mental illness. As an outgrowth of this mental health movement, mental hygiene programs began in schools and child guidance clinics were developed (Morris & Kratochwill, 1983).
Many researchers and early mental health and social workers were seeking solutions to similar problems in isolation. Under the guidance and encouragement of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, about 500 child guidance clinics were established by 1930, which allowed possible solutions to be shared and examined (Morris & Kratochwill, 1983).
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