Tag Archives: psychoanalysis

Another Look at the History of the Unconscious: Sites of the Unconscious

Historian of the human sciences Andreas Mayer, a Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, has just published a new volume on the history of the unconscious. Mayer’s book, Sites of the Unconscious: Hypnosis and the Emergence of the Psychoanalytic Setting, focuses specifically on the sites and practices that shaped hypnosis and the development of psychoanalysis. The book is described as follows,

In the late nineteenth century, scientists, psychiatrists, and medical practitioners began employing a new experimental technique for the study of neuroses: hypnotism. Though the efforts of the famous French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot to transform hypnosis into a laboratory science failed, his Viennese translator and disciple Sigmund Freud took up the challenge and invented psychoanalysis. Previous scholarship has viewed hypnosis and psychoanalysis in sharp opposition or claimed that both were ultimately grounded in the phenomenon of suggestion and thus equally flawed. In this groundbreaking study, Andreas Mayer reexamines the relationship between hypnosis and psychoanalysis, revealing that the emergence of the familiar Freudian psychoanalytic setting cannot be understood without a detailed analysis of the sites, material and social practices, and controversies within the checkered scientific and medical landscape of hypnotism.

Sites of the Unconscious analyzes the major controversies between competing French schools of hypnotism that emerged at this time, stressing their different views on the production of viable evidence and their different ways of deploying hypnosis. Mayer then reconstructs in detail the reception of French hypnotism in German-speaking countries, arguing that the distinctive features of Freud’s psychoanalytic setting of the couch emerged out of the clinical laboratories and private consulting rooms of the practitioners of hypnosis.

Table of Contents: Continue reading

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Early American Psychoanalysis in…Baltimore?

The early history of psychoanalysis in Baltimore is chronicled in a piece from a rather unlikely source: Baltimore Style Magazine. In addition to detailing some of the early work on psychoanalysis conducted in Baltimore, the article describes how the American Psychoanalytic Association began in Baltimore and only moved to New York City in the 1930s. As the piece describes,

In the United States, New York is the city perhaps most frequently associated with the practice— it is home to more psychoanalysts than any other U.S. city, as any Woody Allen fan knows. Yet Baltimore, too, played a major role in the early days of psychoanalysis. Many of the field’s first luminaries lived here, and the city witnessed the development of several groundbreaking psychological treatments. In fact, the very first meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, on May 9, 1911, was held in the Stafford Hotel in Mount Vernon.

When Freud, along with Carl Jung, visited America in 1909, it was at the invitation of the pioneering psychologist G. Stanley Hall, president of Clark University in Massachusetts, where Freud gave a lecture on his controversial new method of treatment. His talk was attended by a group of prominent U.S. physicians who were so vitalized by the new ideas that they gathered together to form an American branch of the Psychoanalytic Association, which was established, with Freud’s blessing, two years later here in Baltimore.

The piece goes on to say:

The early records of the American Psychoanalytic Association have been lost, but we know that 15 eminent psychiatrists were present at the Baltimore meeting, including Hall; Freud’s close colleague and biographer Ernest Jones; and the Austrian-born psychiatrist Abraham Brill, who went on to translate a number of Freud’s works and introduce them to the American public. Also present was the influential New York neurologist Smith Ely Jelliffe, who counted among his patients the playwright Eugene O’Neill. (“Just consulted Jelliffe, famous specialist here, on Mama’s case,” O’Neill wrote to his eldest brother Jamie in 1924. “He says hopeless.”)

The association’s charter members also included a number of Baltimore-based physicians such as Adolf Meyer, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. Meyer had attended seminars conducted by Jung, and later became known as the first psychiatrist to make a habit of collecting detailed case histories of his patients, and to insist they could best be understood through consideration of their past in the context of their family lives.

Read the full article online here.

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New Journal: History of the Present

The recently released second issue of a new journal, History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History, contains a number of articles relevant to the history of psychology. In particular, three articles deal with the history of psychoanalysis. Of these, one uses material culture to interrogate the case work of Jung and Freud, and two others address aspects of the recent history of neuropsychoanalysis. A further article traces the history of addiction, from its initial status as a moral disorder in the late-nineteenth century to its contemporary casting as a disease of the brain. Titles, authors, and brief excerpts follow below.

“‘I suffer in an unknown manner that is hieroglyphical': Jung and Babette en route to Freud and Schreber,” by Angela Woods. (See photo, left.) The article begins,

To begin: two fragments. The first is an embroidered jacket. It belonged to a woman called Agnes Richter who lived in an Austrian asylum in the late 1890s. In the words of artist Renée Turner, the jacket is “embroidered so intensively that reading is impossible in certain areas. . . . Words appear and disappear into seams and under layers of thread. There is no beginning or end, just spirals of intersecting fragmentary narratives. She is declarative: ‘I,’ ‘mine,’ ‘my jacket,’ ‘my white stockings. . . .’, ‘I am in the Hubert-us-burg / ground floor,’ ‘children,’ ‘sister’ and ‘cook.’ In the inside she has written ‘1894 I am / I today woman.'” Re-embroidering the laundry number printed on her jacket, “something institutional and distant” is transformed “into something intimate, obsessive and possessive.” She transcribes herself. This is “hypertext”; this is “untamed writing.”

“Another Neurological Scene,” by Elizabeth A. Wilson. The article begins, Continue reading

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The Return of Hysteria?

Hysteria is a condition strongly associated with the 19th century, and with long-past historical figures such as Jean-Martin Charcot and Sigmund Freud. It was finally dropped from the psychiatric vocabulary in the mid-20th century because of its uncertain scientific basis, and because of the widespread perception that it was being used more as a way to control the behavior of women who did not conform to social norms than to label a coherent psychiatric condition.

A recent column in the New York Times, however, suggests that hysteria has made a comeback in the very same population that it was thought to be most prevalent in in times long past: teenage girls and young women. Author Caitlin Flanagan recounts the story of “a high school cheerleader” in a town near Buffalo, NY, who “lay down for a nap,” last October “and woke up changed….  facial tics, uncontrollable movement, stuttering, verbal outbursts.” She continues, “several other schoolmates have been afflicted, for a total of 14 girls. One boy reported symptoms.”

Continue reading

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Egocentrism in Piaget’s theory

New Ideas in Psychology

A valuable new article will appear in the December issue of New Ideas in Psychology: “The concept of egocentrism in the context of Piaget’s theory,” by Thomas Kesselring and Ulrich Müller.  As a hybrid serving both historical and contemporary interests, it is very nearly perfect.  And it makes some incredibly valuable contributions.

The gist: the term “egocentrism” is a hold-over from Jean Piaget’s postdoc in psychoanalysis.  But what he meant by its use has been badly misunderstood.  Really, it ought to be conceptualized in terms of a process of “decentering.”  This claim is supported by appealing to an apology by Piaget—he explained that his choice of terms was “unfortunate”—and by a deep and thorough reading of the relevant primary sources (in both English and French).

We don’t know much, in English, about Piaget’s postdoctoral training (but in French see Ducret, 1984).  The article lays out some of that background: “The roots of the concept of egocentrism can be traced back to Freud’s influence” (p. 328).  This then situates what follows: the article’s focus is on how Piaget’s empirical work led him away from psychoanalysis toward something new.  It also engages the subsequent misunderstandings that emerged as a result of the uneven translation of Piaget’s writings into English.

In this connection, I would like to draw particular attention to the article’s new translation of a short passage from a lecture delivered in 1920.  This has never before been available in English:

Autistic thinking that forms personal symbols remains with us throughout our lives. However, its role changes with age. In the child, autism is everything. Later, reason develops at the expense of autism but can reason ever completely shed itself of autistic thinking? It does not appear this way. The task is therefore to create… a psychology in order to determine in each individual the exact relations between the level of intelligence and the level of autistic or unconscious life (Piaget, 1920, p. 57; trans by Kesselring & Müller, 2011, p. 328).

This paragraph provides the basis for everything that follows: egocentrism, as a concept, sits midway between self-focussed thought (autism) and self-transcendent thought (logical, scientific thinking).  It is important to note, however, that this use of “autism” is different from what we mean today by applying that label.  And the authors, quite helpfully, note this.

This leads Kesselring and Müller to reference some of Piaget’s early comments on the importance of social interaction in decentering the child from overly-narrow thinking: “Social interaction and the becoming aware of the self lead to a mediation of the child’s own point of view by other perspectives and, as a consequence, a universe of relations gradually replaces the universe of absolute substances” (p. 329; citing Piaget, 1927/1930, p. 250).  These claims are critically important for a proper understanding of Piaget’s theory, but so often missed.  Related ideas can also be found in Sociological Studies, which includes reprints of two articles from that period (1928 [pp. 184-214] & 1933 [pp. 215-247]).

There are lots of other wonderful insights (e.g., regarding the replacement of “imitation” with “accommodation” and his replies to Vygotsky), but my purpose here is not to provide highlights.  The article is too valuable to allow it to be glossed over.  It is, simply, an excellent example of a project that uses history to serve science.

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Roundtable Discussion: Psychoanalysis & Politics

A round-table discussion on Psychoanalysis and Politics was held in London earlier this month on May 4th. Arranged by the Departments of Psychosocial Studies and of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck University of London, the Freud Museum, and the Raphael Samuel History Centre the discussion explored various facets of the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics. The event included opening remarks and discussion by professor of modern history, Sally Alexander and three talks: Masculinity and its Vicissitudes in the early 20th Century, by historian Timothy Ashplant; Nazism and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and beyond, by historian Daniel Pick; and Forms of Denial and Re-remembering, by psychologist Stephen Frosh. Complete audio of the event, including audience questions following the talks, can be both heard online and downloaded here.

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Social Media & the History of Psychology

Advances in the History of Psychology has taken the leap into social media and joined both Facebook and Twitter. You can now follow us via our Facebook page and our Twitter feed for even more on the latest developments in the history of psychology.

Those interested in even more history of psychology via social media may also want to check out the Facebook pages of the Society for the History of Psychology, Division 26 of the American Psychological Association, and the Center for the History of Psychology. Both post regularly and are great sources for unique finds in the history of psychology. The Center for the History of Psychology’s Facebook page is particularly interesting for its regular posts of archival material from its Archives of the History of American Psychology. For instance, today’s Archival Gem o’ the Day, as posted on their facebook page, is a psychoanalysis comic from 1955 (right). According to their post,

The inside cover reads: “Through the medium of comic format, we will attempt to portray, graphically and dramatically, the manner in which people find peace of mind through the science of psychoanalysis.” (Published by “Entertaining Comics.” Provenance unknown.)

Check in with their Facebook page regularly for even more archival gems. And, of course, don’t forget to follow AHP on Facebook and Twitter!

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New Resource for History of Psychoanalysis

The Wellcome Library has launched a new online resource on the history of psychoanalysis:  Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing (PEP). The site is an online archival database of 42 psychoanalytic journals and 58 classic texts in psychoanalysis. Texts dating between 1871 and 2007 are available in full.

The database has been a collaborative effort between the American Psychoanalytic Association and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

[Thanks are due to the @WellcomeLibrary twitter feed for the announcement]

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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The February 2011 issue of History of the Human Sciences has been released online. Included in this issue are six all new articles, a review symposium, and a book review of Roderick Buchanan’s new book, Playing with Fire: The Controversial Career of Hans J. Eysenck. Among the topics addressed in these articles are the placebo effect in psychotherapy, the use of ‘deprivation’ in American psychiatric discourse, and the role of case studies in psychoanalysis. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“From medicine to psychotherapy: The placebo effect,” by Stewart Justman. The abstract reads,

If placebos have been squeezed out of medicine to the point where their official place is in clinical trials designed to identify their own confounding effect, the placebo effect nevertheless thrives in psychotherapy. Not only does psychotherapy dispose of placebo effects that are less available to medicine as it becomes increasingly technological and preoccupied with body parts, but factors of the sort inhibiting the use of placebos in medicine have no equivalent in psychology. Medicine today is disturbed by the placebo effect in a way psychotherapy is not. Psychotherapy does not have to grapple with such a disconcerting paradox as successful sham surgery, and unlike those physicians who once pretended to treat the patient’s body while actually attempting to treat the mind, the psychotherapist can treat the mind in all frankness. Perhaps it is because psychotherapy is less burdened by doubts about the placebo effect that it was able to come to its aid when it was orphaned by medicine. It is vain to expect something with so long a history as the placebo effect to disappear from the practices of healing. Continue reading

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Freud’s Visit to New England

Sigmund Freud x 4Today’s New York Times has an article by the psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman about Sigmund Freud’s only visit to the United States, which started a century ago today.  As is well known, Freud was invited by Granville Stanley Hall to give a series of lectures at the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Clark University in Worcester, MA, of which Hall was President. Freud’s lectures, given in German, were translated and became the book The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis, which has been in print ever since. Hoffman, however, focuses on Freud’s relationship with the Boston neurologist, James Jackson Putnam, who invited Freud to his retreat in the Adirondacks, where Putnam became a convert to the Austrian’s system of psychotherapy. Two years later Putnam would become the first president of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Knowing that all was not well with Hoffman’s fawning treatment of the encounter, I forwarded the article to the email lists of the Society for the History of Psychology (APA, Div 26) and of Cheiron to see what their reactions might be. Historian of psychology Ben Harris (U. New Hampshire) wrote back in short order. I think his words are better than any summary I might provide.

The errors in Leon Hoffman’s account of psychotherapy in America before Freud provide a mini tutorial in how one’s professional affiliations can bias one’s historical views. Continue reading

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