New Issue: History of Psychiatry

Image created by Vincent Hevern

The June 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles on diagnostic categories in the DSM, erogtism in Norway, and relationship between Japanese and German psychiatry before World War II. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Ergotism in Norway. Part 2: The symptoms and their interpretation from the eighteenth century onwards,” by Torbjørn Alm and Brita Elvevåg. The abstract reads,

Ergotism, the disease caused by consuming Claviceps purpurea, a highly poisonous, grain-infecting fungus, occurred at various places scattered throughout Norway during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By focusing on these cases we chart the changing interpretations of the peculiar disease, frequently understood within a religious context or considered as a supernatural (e.g. ghostly) experience. However, there was a growing awareness of the disease ergotism, and from the late eighteenth century onwards it was often correctly interpreted as being due to a fungus consumed via bread or porridge. Also, nineteenth-century fairy-tales and regional legends reveal that people were increasingly aware and fearful of the effects of consuming infected grain.

“From psychiatric symptom to diagnostic category: Self-harm from the Victorians to DSM-5,” by Sander L. Gilman. The abstract reads,

It is rare that a symptom becomes a disease entity. ‘Self-harm’ is now a full-fledged diagnostic category for DSM-5. The existing literature of the topic posits that it is a trans-historical psychiatric category and that examples of self-harm can be found from the earliest written records, which is part of the underlying argument for its inclusion in DSM-5. But how old is self-harm and indeed what defines ‘self-harm’ historically and culturally?

“Neopositivism and the DSM psychiatric classification. An epistemological history. Part 1: Theoretical comparison,” by Massimiliano Aragona. The abstract reads,

Recent research suggests that the DSM psychiatric classification is in a paradigmatic crisis and that the DSM-5 will be unable to overcome it. One possible reason is that the DSM is based on a neopositivist epistemology which is inadequate for the present-day needs of psychopathology. However, in which sense is the DSM a neopositivist system? This paper will explore the theoretical similarities between the DSM structure and the neopositivist basic assumptions. It is shown that the DSM has the following neopositivist features: (a) a sharp distinction between scientific and non-scientific diagnoses; (b) the exclusion of the latter as nonsensical; (c) the faith on the existence of a purely observable basis (the description of reliable symptoms); (d) the introduction of the operative diagnostic criteria as rules of correspondence linking the observational level to the diagnostic concept.

“A ‘German world’ shared among doctors: A history of the relationship between Japanese and German psychiatry before World War II,” by Akira Hashimoto. The abstract reads,

This article deals with the critical history of German and Japanese psychiatrists who dreamed of a ‘German world’ that would cross borders. It analyses their discourse, not only by looking at their biographical backgrounds, but also by examining them in a wider context linked to German academic predominance and cultural propaganda before World War II. By focusing on Wilhelm Stieda, Wilhelm Weygandt and Kure Shuzo, the article shows that the positive evaluation of Japanese psychiatry by the two Germans encouraged Kure, who was eager to modernize the treatment of and institutions for the mentally ill in Japan. Their statements on Japanese psychiatry reflect their ideological and historical framework, with reference to national/ethnic identity, academic position, and the relationship between Germany and Japan.

“The bones of the insane,” by Jennifer Wallis. The abstract reads,

This article examines alienist explanations for fracture among British asylum patients in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. A series of deaths in asylums came to light in the 1870s which, in placing the blame for such incidents on asylum staff, called for a response from the psychiatric profession. This response drew upon other medical fields and employed novel pathological techniques to explain why fractures occurred among the insane, in many cases aligning bone fragility with particular forms of insanity (namely, General Paralysis of the Insane). Although such research aimed to provide a medical explanation for the ‘fracture death’, it also called into question the value of pathological research and the utility of quantitative measurement in understanding mental disease.

“The theoretical root of Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology. Part 1: Reconsidering the influence of phenomenology and hermeneutics,” by Tsutomu Kumazaki. The abstract reads,

The present paper investigates the methodology involved in Jaspers’ psychopathology and compares it with Husserl’s phenomenology and with Dilthey’s cultural science. Allgemeine Psychopathologie and other methodological works by Jaspers, the works of Husserl and Dilthey that Jaspers cited, and previous research papers on Jaspers are reviewed. Jaspers had conflicting views on understanding, which were comprised of both empathic understanding and rational, ideal-typical understanding. Such a standpoint on understanding is considerably different from Dilthey’s. Additionally, the present paper reconfirms that Jaspers’ ‘phenomenology’ as a form of descriptive psychology for the understanding of empirical psychic states is different from Husserl’s phenomenology. Thus, this paper casts doubt on the common opinion that Jaspers was under the profound influence of Husserl or Dilthey.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She completed her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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