New HoP: Evil, Attachment, and Trends in Psychiatry

The February 2016 issue of History of Psychology is now online. The issue includes an opening editorial note from incoming editor Nadine Weidman on her plans for the journal. Articles in the issue explore studies of evil by Ernest Becker and Stanley Milgram, the influence of William Blatz on Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory, and Foucault’s work on mental illness. The issue also includes an article on cyclical trends in the history of psychiatry by Hannah Decker, along with commentary from Allen Frances and Ronald Pies and a response from the author. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“History of Psychology,” by Nadine Weidman. The abstract reads,

The editor of History of Psychology discusses her plan to vary the journal’s content and expand its scope in specific ways. The first is to introduce a “Spotlight” feature, a relatively brief, provocative thought piece that might take one of several forms. Along with this new feature, she hopes further to broaden the journal’s coverage and its range of contributors. She encourages submissions on the history of the psy-sciences off the beaten path. Finally, she plans to continue the journal’s tradition of special issues, special sections, and essay reviews of two or more important recently published books in the field.

“Ernest Becker and Stanley Milgram: Twentieth-century students of evil,” by Jack Martin.

Both Stanley Milgram and Ernest Becker studied and theorized human evil and offered explanations for evil acts, such as those constituting the Holocaust. Yet the explanations offered by Becker and Milgram are strikingly different. In this essay, brief biographical records of their lives are provided. Differences in their research methods and theories are then examined and traced to relevant differences in their lives, education, and careers. Especially important in this regard were their personal experiences of evil and the scholarly practices and traditions of social scientific and humanities scholarship that characterized their graduate education and scholarly work. The final parts of the essay are devoted to a comparative and integrative analysis of their respective approaches to the question of evil, especially as manifest during the Holocaust, and a brief exegesis of their disciplinary commitments.

“From secure dependency to attachment: Mary Ainsworth’s integration of Blatz’s security theory into Bowlby’s attachment theory,” by Lenny van Rosmalen, Frank C. P. van der Horst, and René van der Veer.

John Bowlby is generally regarded as the founder of attachment theory, with the help of Mary Ainsworth. Through her Uganda and Baltimore studies Ainsworth provided empirical evidence for attachment theory, and she contributed the notion of the secure base and exploratory behavior, the Strange Situation Procedure and its classification system, and the notion of maternal sensitivity. On closer scrutiny, many of these contributions appear to be heavily influenced by William Blatz and his security theory. Even though Blatz’s influence on Ainsworth has been generally acknowledged, this article, partly based on understudied correspondence from several personal archives, is the first to show which specific parts of attachment theory can be traced back directly to Blatz and his security theory. When Ainsworth started working with Bowlby in the 1950s, around the time he turned to evolutionary theory for an explanation of his findings, she integrated much of Blatzian security theory into Bowlby’s theory in the making and used her theoretical and practical experience to enrich attachment theory. Even though Blatz is hardly mentioned nowadays, several of his ideas live on in attachment theory.

“Individual perception and cultural development: Foucault’s 1954 approach to mental illness and its history,” by Line Joranger.

In his 1954 book Mental Illness and Personality Foucault combines the subjective experience of the mentally ill person with a sociocultural historical approach to mental illness and suggests that there exists a reciprocal connection between individual perception and sociocultural development. This article examines the ramifications of these connections in Foucault’s 1954 works and the connection with his later historical works. The article also examines the similarities between Foucault’s 1954 thoughts and contemporary intellectual thought, such as those outlined in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology and in Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem’s historical epistemology. In sum, my study shows that Foucault’s historical analysis began long before his 1961 dissertation History of Madness. It also shows that, more than announcing the “death” of the subject, Foucault’s historical analysis may have contributed to saving it.

“Cyclical swings: The bête noire of psychiatry,” by Hannah S. Decker.

Progress in psychiatry in the West has been retarded by the proclivity of the discipline to swing violently between 2 approaches to viewing mental illness; that is, emphasizing—to the exclusion of the other—the material–somatic vs the psychical–experiential avenues to knowledge. Each time a shift occurs, the leaders of the new dominant approach emotionally denounce the principles and ideas that came before. We can examine this phenomenon historically by looking at Romantic psychiatry, mid-/late-19th century empirical psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and modern biological psychiatry. Looking at the 2 approaches in treatment today, the gold standard of patient care involves combining empirical/psychological care in 1 person (the psychiatrist) or shared between 2 clinicians working intimately with each other (psychiatrist with psychologist or social worker.) Yet as regards psychiatrists, they are discouraged from paying full attention to the psychological side by the way managed care and third-party payment have combined to remunerate them. Finally, how do we account for the intense swings and denunciations in psychiatry? The author speculates on possible explanations but leaves the question open for her readers.

“Entrenched reductionisms: The bête noire of psychiatry,” by Allen Frances.

Like Hannah Decker, I too deplore the destructive battle of psychosocial and biological reductionisms that has bedeviled psychiatry. When I started my psychiatric training almost 50 years ago, the prevailing model for understanding mental disorders was broadly bio/psycho/social in the grand tradition of Pinel and Freud, brought to and adapted in America by Adolph Meyer. When psychiatry is practiced well, it integrates insights from all the different ways of understanding human nature. Unfortunately, the mental health field has since degenerated into a civil war between the biomedical and psychosocial models with little room for compromise or finding middle ground. The inflexible biological reductionists assume that genes are destiny and that there is a pill for every problem: they take a “mindless” position. The inflexible psychosocial reductionists assume that mental health problems all arise from unpleasant experience: They take a “brainless” position. I have spent a good deal of frustrating time trying to open the minds of extremists at both ends, though rarely making much headway. In my view, however, and where I differ from Decker, the reductionisms do not sort so neatly into alternating historical periods.

“Comments on “cyclical swings” by Professor Hannah Decker: The underappreciated “solid center” of psychiatry,” by Ronald W. Pies.

The history of psychiatry is characterized by some deep ideological and conceptual divisions, as adumbrated in Professor Hannah Decker’s essay. However, the schism between “biological” and “psychosocial” models of mental illness and its treatment represents extreme positions among some psychiatrists—not the model propounded by academic psychiatry or its affiliated professional organizations. Indeed, the “biopsycho-social model” (BPSM) developed by Dr. George L. Engel has been, and remains, the foundational model for academic psychiatry, notwithstanding malign market forces that have undermined the BPSM’s use in clinical practice. The BPSM is integrally related to “centralizing” and integrative trends in American psychiatry that may be traced to Franz Alexander, Karl Jaspers, and Engel himself, among others. This “Alexandrian-Jaspersian-Engelian” tradition is explored in relation to Professor Decker’s “cyclical swing” model of psychiatry’s history.

“Professor Decker replies,” by Hannah S. Decker.

Replies to comments by Allen Frances (see record 2016-05673-005) and Ronald W. Pies (see record 2016-05673-006) on the article by Hannah Decker (see record 2016-05673-004). Frances’ sophisticated fine-tuning of Decker’s dichotomies is most welcome. Nevertheless, the impact of reductionism on an era does persist. As for Pies, Decker wishes she could share Pies’ hopes for the future of an integrated psychiatry, but we are in a biological period that shows little evidence of becoming inclusive of the psychological and the social.

“Society for the History of Psychology news,” by Shayna Fox Lee (Ed).

Presents brief news items of interest to the Society for the History of Psychology.

“The archive of the History of Psychology at the University of Rome, Sapienza,” by Chiara Bartolucci and Shayna Fox Lee.

The History of Psychology Archive at the University of Rome, Sapienza was founded in 2008 in the Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology. The archive aspires to become an indispensable tool to (a) understand the currents, schools, and research traditions that have marked the path of Italian psychology, (b) focus on issues of general and applied psychology developed in each university, (c) identify experimental and clinical-differential methodologies specific to each lab, (d) reconstruct the genesis and consolidation of psychology institutions and, ultimately, (e) write a “story,” set according to the most recent historiographical criteria. The archive is designed according to scholarship on the history of Italian psychology from the past two decades. The online archive is divided into five sections for ease of access. The Sapienza archive is a work in progress and it has plans for expansion.

“Digital methods for the history of psychology: Introduction and resources,” by Shayna Fox Lee.

At the York University Digital History of Psychology Laboratory, we have been working on projects that explore what digital methodologies have to offer historical research in our field. This piece provides perspective on the history and theory of digital history, as well as introductory resources for those who are curious about incorporating these methods into their own work.

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About Jacy Young

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

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