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Witmer Starts Clinical Psychology

From about 1900 to 1910, clinical psychology consisted of what we now call school psychology. Clinical psychologists diagnosed problems of school children and tried to help them. Increasing numbers of psychologists went into this field. By 1910 the most common specialty among applied psychologists was pedagogical psychology, which today would be called educational or school psychology.

How did "clinical psychology" get started? How did his first student influence Witmer?

Lightner Witmer is often called the father of clinical psychology. Witmer started his career at the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 at the age of 25 and stayed there for the next 45 years. He founded the journal The Psychological Clinic in 1907. It was published until 1935, and during those 28 years it was the only clinical psychology journal. Witmer's first client, in 1896, was a "chronic bad speller" who turned out to need eyeglasses. After the boy was fitted with glasses, his spelling problems went away. This lesson was not lost upon Witmer, who routinely included vision and hearing tests in his tests of students.

What methods did Witmer use at his clinic?

Witmer was one of the many American psychologists who studied under Wundt during their formative years. The experience was not a happy one. Witmer later described himself as "disgusted" with Wundt's insistence that students repeat experiments until they came out the way Wundt expected them to. Rather than follow in Wundt's footsteps, Witmer turned to non-introspective methods, laying the way for behaviorism. At his clinic, Witmer emphasized diagnostic testing, followed by practical treatment. The treatment was not exclusively psychological. It ranged from mental testing to removing an abscessed tooth to family counseling, followed by retesting to see if there was an improvement in performance.


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