NY Times article: “Psychiatry Manual Drafters Back Down on Diagnoses”

An article appeared in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Psychiatry Manual Drafters Back Down on Diagnoses”. It is written by Benedict Carey and deals with the fifth edition of the DSM:

In a rare step, doctors on a panel revising psychiatry’s influential diagnostic manual have backed away from two controversial proposals that would have expanded the number of people identified as having psychotic or depressive disorders.

The doctors dropped two diagnoses that they ultimately concluded were not supported by the evidence: “attenuated psychosis syndrome,” proposed to identify people at risk of developing psychosis, and “mixed anxiety depressive disorder,” a hybrid of the two mood problems.

To read the entire article, click here.

Centre for International Medical Anthropology (CRIMA) 2012 Workshop – The rise of child science and psy-expertise

Ovide Decroly (1871-1923), pioneer of experimental pedagogy

Ovide Decroly (1871-1923), pioneer of experimental pedagogy

The Centre for Research in International Medical Anthropology, together with the Royal Anthropological Institute, will be holding a workshop entitled ‘The rise of child science and psy-expertise’ on May 29 and 30 in London

Keynote speakers include Professors Allan Young from McGill University, Rayna Rapp from New York University, and Richard Rechtman of the EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales). The workshop will feature presentations from a interdisciplinary group of 14 scholars from around the world.

For more information click here.

New issue – History of the Human Sciences

A new issue of History of the Human Sciences, guest-edited by Elizabeth Valentine, is now available online. It is a special issue devoted to parapsychology, occultism and spiritualism and includes the following contributions:

“Psychical research and parapsychology interpreted: Suggestions from the international historiography of psychical research and parapsychology for investigating its history in the Netherlands” (Ingrid Kloosterman)

One of the reasons the history of parapsychology and its ancestor psychical research is intriguing is because it addresses a central issue: the boundaries of science. This article provides an overview of the historiography of parapsychology and presents an approach to investigate the Dutch history of parapsychology contributing to the understanding of this central theme. In the first section the historical accounts provided by psychical researchers and parapsychologists themselves are discussed; next those studies of sociologists and historians understanding parapsychology as deviant and even potentially revolutionary are dealt with; third, more contemporary studies are examined whereby enterprises such as parapsychology are understood as central to the culture in which they arose. On the basis of this analysis a new direction in the historiography of the subject is suggested in the fourth section, centred upon the relation between parapsychology and psychology in the Netherlands throughout the 20th century. In the Netherlands not only were pioneering psychologists such as Gerard Heymans (1857–1930) actively involved in experiments into telepathy, the first professor in parapsychology in the world – Wilhelm Tenhaeff (1894–1981) – was appointed in 1953 at Utrecht University and in the 1970s and 1980s parapsychology had its own research laboratory at Utrecht University in the division of psychology. This unique situation in the Netherlands deserves scholarly attention and makes an interesting case to investigate the much-neglected connections between the fields of psychology and parapsychology in the 20th century. The connections between psychology and parapsychology might help us to understand why parapsychology came to be regarded as a pseudoscience.

“Psychical research and the origins of American psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino” (Andreas Sommer)

Largely unacknowledged by historians of the human sciences, late-19th-century psychical researchers were actively involved in the making of fledgling academic psychology. Moreover, with few exceptions historians have failed to discuss the wider implications of the fact that the founder of academic psychology in America, William James, considered himself a psychical researcher and sought to integrate the scientific study of mediumship, telepathy and other controversial topics into the nascent discipline. Analysing the celebrated exposure of the medium Eusapia Palladino by German-born Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg as a representative example, this article discusses strategies employed by psychologists in the United States to expel psychical research from the agenda of scientific psychology. It is argued that the traditional historiography of psychical research, dominated by accounts deeply averse to its very subject matter, has been part of an ongoing form of ‘boundary-work’ to bolster the scientific status of psychology.

“Hallucination or materialization? The animism versus spiritism debate in late-19th-century Germany” (Heather Wolffram)

This article considers a long-neglected episode in the disciplinary evolution of the border sciences in Germany: the so-called animism versus spiritism debate. While historians have long acknowledged the significance of this dispute, which introduced a range of new hypotheses and nomenclature to the field, there has been little detailed analysis of it. Looking closely at the arguments of the main combatants, this article attempts to highlight not just the complex multi-frontal conflicts that took place during the late 19th century between academic psychologists, spiritists and psychical researchers over the parameters and proper objects of the nascent field of psychology, but also the epistemological and methodological battles between spiritists and psychical researchers over the nature of both psychology and the unconscious. It is concluded that researchers such as Hartmann and Aksakow in their pursuit of a new scientific psychology based on the phenomena of the unconscious were just as representative of contemporary psychology as were Wundt and his colleagues.

“Spooks and spoofs: Relations between psychical research and academic psychology in Britain in the inter-war period” (Elizabeth R. Valentine)

This article describes the relations between academic psychology and psychical research in Britain during the inter-war period, in the context of the fluid boundaries between mainstream psychology and both psychical research and popular psychology. Specifically, the involvement with Harry Price of six senior academic psychologists: William McDougall, William Brown, J. C. Flugel, Cyril Burt, C. Alec Mace and Francis Aveling, is described. Personal, metaphysical and socio-historical factors in their collaboration are discussed. It is suggested that the main reason for their mutual attraction was their common engagement in a delicate balancing act between courting popular appeal on the one hand and the assertion of scientific expertise and authority on the other. Their interaction is typical of the boundary work performed at this transitional stage in the development of psychology as a discipline.

“Psychology and psychical research in France around the end of the 19th century” (Régine Plas)

During the last third of the 19th century, the ‘new’ French psychology developed within ‘the hypnotic context’ opened up by Charcot. In spite of their claims to the scientific nature of their hypnotic experiments, Charcot and his followers were unable to avoid the miracles that had accompanied mesmerism, the forerunner of hypnosis. The hysterics hypnotized in the Salpêtrière Hospital were expected to have supernormal faculties and these experiments opened the door to psychical research. In 1885 the first French psychology society was founded. The research carried out by this society may seem surprising: its members – Charles Richet in particular – were interested in strange phenomena, like magnetic lucidity, ‘mental suggestion’, thought-reading, etc. Very quickly, psychologists applied themselves to finding rational explanations for these supposedly miraculous gifts. Generally, they ascribed them to unconscious or subconscious perceptual mechanisms. Finally, after a few years, studies of psychical phenomena were excluded from the field of psychology. However, during the 4th International Congress of Psychology, which took place in Paris in 1900, the foundation of an institute devoted to the study of psychical phenomena was announced, but Pierre Janet and Georges Dumas founded within it the Société Française de Psychologie, from which psychical research was excluded. As for Charles Richet, disappointed by the psychologists, he devoted himself to the development of a new ‘science’ which he called ‘Métapsychique’. Several hypotheses have been put forward to account for this early research undertaken by the French psychologists, pertaining as much to parapsychology as to scientific psychology.

“Metapsychics in Spain: Acknowledging or questioning the marvellous?” (Annette Mülberger and Mónica Balltondre)

The present article deals with a kind of parapsychology called metapsychics (metapsíquica) as conceived and practised in Spain between 1923 and 1925. First we focus on the reception of a treatise by Richet that evoked both support (Ferrán) and criticism (Mira). Then we examine some experiments on clairvoyance performed at the Marquis of Santa Cara’s home, dealing chiefly with the rise and fall of a case of prodigious vision. The analysis gives special attention to the question of how metapsychics was understood and to which discussions it gave rise. The authors argue that the project of metapsychics must be understood within a frame of two tendencies, namely, the increasing popularization and the demarcation of science that were under way in modern society.

“Sándor Ferenczi and the problem of telepathy” (Júlia Gyimesi)

Sándor Ferenczi, the great representative of the Budapest School of Psychoanalysis, had a lifelong interest in psychical phenomena. Although his ideas on the psychoanalytical understanding of spiritualistic phenomena and telepathy were not developed theories, they had a strong influence on some representatives of psychoanalysis, and thus underlay the psychoanalytic interpretation of telepathy. Ferenczi’s ideas on telepathy were interwoven with his most important technical and theoretical innovations. Thus Ferenczi’s thoughts on telepathy say a lot about his psychoanalytical thinking and attitudes, and illuminate the significance of his greatest innovations in the context of psychical research.

“The Fukurai affair: Parapsychology and the history of psychology in Japan” (Miki Takasuna)

The history of psychology in Japan from the late 19th century until the first half of the 20th century did not follow a smooth course. After the first psychological laboratory was established at Tokyo Imperial University in 1903, psychology in Japan developed as individual specialties until the Japanese Psychological Association was established in 1927. During that time, Tomokichi Fukurai, an associate professor at Tokyo Imperial University, became involved with psychical research until he was forced out in 1913. The Fukurai affair, as it is sometimes called, was not documented in textbooks on the history of Japanese psychology prior to the late 1990s. Among earlier generations of Japanese psychologists, it has even been taboo for discussion. Today, the affair and its after-effects are considered to have been a major deterrent in the advancement of clinical psychology in Japan during the first half of the 20th century.

For more information, click here.

Conférence – Parcours d’aliénées de l’asile Sainte-Anne à Maison Blanche (Paris)

« Parcours d’aliénées de l’asile Sainte-Anne à Maison Blanche »

Conférence de Michel Caire, Praticien hospitalier, Psychiatre des Hôpitaux, Chef de service du Département d’Information Médicale, E.P.S. Maison Blanche, et Audrey Ceselli, archiviste

Jeudi 7 juin 2012

Conférence gratuite, sans réservation
Salle Paul Verlaine

Archives de Paris
18 boulevard Sérurier
75019 Paris
Métro : Porte-des-Lilas (ligne 11)

Pour plus d’informations : http://www.paris.fr/politiques/paris-d-hier-a-aujourd-hui/archives-de-paris/cycle-des-conferences-2012/rub_149_actu_107339_port_24321

New issue – Social History of Medicine

The May 2012 issue of Social History of Medicine is now out and includes the following articles:

“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing” (James Kennaway)

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger” (Melinda Grimsley-Smith)

The Irish Famine of the 1840s has been most commonly understood as a social and political event, as the literature has been oriented toward demographic transformation and the drive toward democratisation in the post-Famine period. In this article, I use anomalies in post-Famine admissions to lunatic asylums and contemporary epidemiological research to argue that our understanding of the demographic transformation should incorporate a reckoning of the Famine as a biological event. Sudden and severe nutritional deprivation has measurable significant and long-lasting biological and psychological consequences that in turn have the capacity to alter the trajectory of a society’s development. This research has broader implications, as it suggests that effects of chronic food scarcity common to struggling regional and national economies should be taken into account when historians tell the tale of how societies develop.

“Alienists, Attendants and the Containment of Suicide in Public Lunatic Asylums, 1845–1890” (Sarah York)

Suicidal lunatics were only one patient group among several that alienists and asylum attendants had to care for, but the danger and risk associated with suicide made them one of the more difficult to manage. The task of suicide prevention was a priority for asylum staff as they endeavoured to save life and avoid criticism and investigation from the asylums’ regulating body. This article investigates the contribution alienists and attendants made to the management and prevention of suicide in English public lunatic asylums during the second half of the nineteenth century. It examines the respective contribution alienists and attendants made to the handling of suicidal patients, with varying levels of involvement. In doing so, it argues that the practical application of suicide prevention fell to asylum attendants, as their work determined how, and with what success, alienists’ suicide policy was implemented.

“Diseased, Depraved or just Drunk? The Psychiatric Panic over Alcoholism in Communist Yugoslavia” (Mat Savelli)

In the era of Communist rule in Yugoslavia (1945–91), few problems attracted as much psychiatric attention as alcoholism. Conducting widespread epidemiological research, practitioners discovered an alarming trend as rates of the disease were seemingly rising in every territory and segment of the population. Such an upswing of problem drinking seemed to threaten the ideological, economical, and social well-being of the state and its citizens. This widespread panic spurred psychiatric investigations into the aetiology of alcoholism. Much of this work focused on the role of the family, the workplace, class and societal changes as the genesis of problem drinking. Ultimately, these researchers concluded that alcoholism was not merely an affliction of the individual but rather a social disease with cause and consequence extending far beyond the problem drinker.

For more information, click here.

New Issue – Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte

A new issue of the yearbook Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte has been published. Two articles address the history of psychiatry from the patients’ perspective. Unfortunately the editor does not publish abstracts of the contributions.

Jens Gründler: Auf und davon. Lebensläufe nach der Entlassung aus einer psychiatrischen Anstalt, Glasgow 1875-1921

Christof Beyer: »Oder sollen wir etwa geheilt werden, um […] uns immer- dar die Endlosigkeit unseres Aufenthalts hier vor Augen zu halten […]?« – Eine Patientenperspektive in der Psychiatrie zwischen Krankheit, Normalisierung und Normalität (1921-1937)

Jens Gründler 9
Auf und davon.
Lebensläufe nach der Entlassung aus einer psychiatrischen
Anstalt, Glasgow 1875-1921
Christof Beyer
»Oder sollen wir etwa geheilt werden, um […] uns immer-
dar die Endlosigkeit unseres Aufenthalts hier vor Augen zu
halten […]?« – Eine Patientenperspektive in der Psychiatrie
zwischen Krankheit, Normalisierung und Normalität (1921-

How I became a historian of psychiatry: Edward Shorter

For the second installment of the “How I became a historian of psychiatry” series, Edward Shorter, Hannah Professor in the History of Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, author among others of A History of Psychiatry from the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (1997) and From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era (1992), kindly shares his intellectual biography with the H-Madness community:

This story began in 1967 when, a fresh young history PhD graduate, I came to the University of Toronto.  I had been trained as a social historian and after several projects far away from the history of medicine, in 1975 I wrote a general history of the family, not that it was such a medical contribution – but it called my attention to a number of medical issues in the lives of women historically:  infected abortion, weariness from overwork, and iron-deficiency anemia.  This led to a history of women’s health care (Women’s Bodies) in 1982.  This was full-blast medical history, but researching it made me aware that I knew almost nothing of medicine.  So I went to medical school for two years, taking all the basic medical sciences.

I now felt better equipped to take on a big problem: the history of psychosomatic illness, especially “hysteria,” mainly in women, over the centuries.  Knowing something about medicine was helpful here because of the difficulty in sorting out symptoms that are psychogenic (“hysteria”) from those that are organic-medical, such as endometriosis, often dubbed “hysterical” in the past.  This research resulted in From Paralysis to Fatigue (1992).

I was now thoroughly enmeshed in psychiatry, and went on to write a general history of the discipline, which appeared in 1997 and was read by a number of psychiatrists.  I became friendly with several whose work I greatly admired, and who subsequently influenced the direction of my own studies, in particular David Healy, Max Fink, Bernard Carroll, Tom Ban, Tom Bolwig, and Gordon Parker.  Animated email exchanges with this group produced a sharp research interest on my part in two themes: the history of diagnosis (nosology), and the history of psychiatric medications (psychopharmacology).  This led to a string of publications: A History of Shock Therapy, with David Healy (2007), Before Prozac (2009), and Endocrine Psychiatry; Solving the Riddle of Melancholia (with Max Fink) in 2010.  My latest book, The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown – And How Everyone Became Depressed, will be published by Oxford early in 2013.  I should say that among contemporary historians of psychiatry there are also several whose work I have learned from, in particular Patrizia Guarnieri and Ian Dowbiggin.  Everyone in our field learned from Roy Porter.

There are two points of more general interest in this cascade of self-esteem: (1) Historians of psychiatry have a real contribution to make to clinical psychiatric diagnosis, subject as it is to the buffeting of fashion and fad; that contribution lies in surveying the enormous historical experience of psychiatry to see which diagnoses seem to correspond most closely to natural disease entities.  (2) Psychiatric historians also have a contribution to make to therapeutics, because many past therapies have been discarded not because they were unsafe or ineffective, but because the patents expired!  Or because (as in the case of electroconvulsive therapy) society turned against them for non-scientific reasons.  Or because, as in the case of the barbiturates, makers of newer drug classes scorned them in advertising as old-fashioned and risky.

Among my current interests are pediatric catatonia and self-injury behavior in autism, and the extent to which they have been relieved in the past with ECT; the early “tranquilizers” and sedatives, discarded as effective treatments largely because of psychiatric urban myths of various kinds; and melancholia as a distinctive illness in its own right with characteristic biological markers.  I find this research tremendously exciting, and hope that historian colleagues will become involved. 

Many thanks, Edward Shorter, for sharing this story!

%d bloggers like this: