Homosexuality, Asylums, and Lycanthrophy

The December 2009 issue of History of Psychiatry has just been released online. Among the five all-new articles that appear in the journal are ones on the history of homosexuality in Scotland, the visual experience of landscape as a therapeutic practice in British asylums, and Byzantine understandings of lycanthropy. Also included in this issue is a translated section of L. Snell’s 1852 “On alterations in the form of speech and on the formation of new words and expressions in madness”, as well as a request from researchers of the Venice asylum for assistance in a project that seeks to situate the history of this institution in the larger European context. The titles, authors, and abstracts from the articles in the issue follow below.

In “Psychiatry and homosexuality in mid-twentieth-century Edinburgh: the view from Jordanburn Nerve Hospital” Robert Davidson (pictured, left), Emeritus Professor of Social History and Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, examines the 1950s understanding of homosexuality in Edinburgh and contrasts these views with those of the medical community in Glasgow. The abstract for this article reads:

There has been little historical research into the post-war treatment of homosexuality, especially in Scotland. Using surviving records from the Jordanburn Nerve Hospital (JNH) in Edinburgh for the 1950s, this paper sets out to rectify this omission. The views of homosexuality held by the psychiatrists, and the main treatment strategies adopted (categorized as hospitalization, suppression, reorientation/‘cure’, and adjustment) are surveyed and illustrated from particular cases. The Edinburgh experience is also compared with perceptions and practices relating to the treatment of homosexual problems in Glasgow. It is concluded that psychiatrists at the JNH adopted a cautious, ad hoc approach to therapy, reflecting both ideological and resource constraints and an attachment to taxonomies of deviance rooted in established notions of sexual pathology.

In “Cheerful prospects and tranquil restoration: the visual experience of landscape as part of the therapeutic regime of the British asylum, 1800—60” Clare Hickman, a Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol discusses the therapeutic value of the passive experience of landscape in nineteenth century British asylums. The abstract for this article reads:

The early nineteenth-century asylum in Britain was generally sited upon a hill with wide-ranging rural views, surrounded by agricultural land, gardens and landscaped grounds. A number of historians have discussed the role of these features as places for patients to partake in recreation, exercise and work. This paper will add to this literature by exploring the possibility that, alongside this active participation and interaction, the passive experience of viewing the landscape and the location of the asylum within a rural setting were also expected to have a therapeutic role.

In their article, “Child psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the UK National Health Service: an historical analysis”, Elizabeth Rous, of the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Andrew Clark, of the Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, examine child psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the United Kingdom. The abstract for this article reads:

This review developed from a discussion with the late Professor Richard Harrington about interventions in Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHS) that lacked an evidence base. Our aim is to investigate the literature for signs that child psychoanalysis is a declining paradigm within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the United Kingdom (UK). We present the literature chronologically since the inception of the UK National Health Service. This study shows that there have been a number of threats to child psychoanalytic psychotherapy, but no significant consistent decline. The profession is beginning to develop the social profile of a scientific discipline. We conclude that child psychoanalytic psychotherapy does not consistently demonstrate features of a declining scientific paradigm.

In the second part of her two part article, “The vocabulary of madness from Homer to Hippocrates. Part 2: The verbal group of ?{alpha}{kappa}{chi}{epsilon}{small accented upsilon}{omega} and the noun “, Hélène Perdicoyianni-Paléologou, of Hellenic College–Holy Cross, in Brookline, Massachusetts, examines the classical vocabulary of madness. The abstract for this article reads:

In Part 2 of this two-part paper, I examine the evolution and the aspects of the concept of madness expressed by the various forms – verbal and nominal, simple and compound – of the verbal group of ?{alpha}{kappa}{chi}{epsilon}{small accented upsilon}{omega} and the noun , its nominal and derivatives, in the archaic and classical periods. I conclude that the verbal group of ?{alpha}{kappa}{chi}{epsilon}{small accented upsilon}{omega} is apt to indicate bacchic frenzy that manifests either in the celebration of Bacchos’s mysteries or in the delirium instilled by Dionysos In addition, , its nominal and verbal derivatives, refer to either a violent and wild state of soul resulting from divine intervention or pathological madness caused by a dog’s bite.

In “Lycanthropy in Byzantine times (AD 330–1453)” E. Poulakou-Rebelakou, C. Tsiamis, G. Panteleakos, and D. Ploumpidis of the University of Athens, examine Byzantine understandings of lycanthropy, that is the transformation of an individual into a wolf. The abstract for this article reads:

In this paper, the original Greek language texts of the Byzantine medical literature about lycanthropy are reviewed. The transformation of a human being into a wolf and the adoption of animal-like behaviour, which were already known from mythology and had been presented in the scientific works of ancient Greek and Roman physicians, were examined by six Byzantine physicians and explained as a type of melancholic depression or mania. In spite of the influence of Byzantine medicine, its rationality in the interpretation of lycanthropy was forgotten in medieval and Renaissance times when it was replaced by explanations based on demonic possession and witchcraft. More recently psychiatry has treated the phenomenon as a subject of medical inquiry and has again explained the condition in terms of mental disorder.

Also present in this issue, is an extract of L. Snell’s 1852 “On alterations in the form of speech and on the formation of new words and expressions in madness” translated and introduced by G. E. Berrios. The abstract to this feature reads:

This Classic Text is a translation of an 1852 paper on neologisms and other disorders of language in the insane by Ludwig Snell (1817–92). It illustrates the impact on descriptive psychopathology caused by the early nineteenth century view that language shaped thought and culture. Developed by Herder, Humboldt and others, this view was to govern the way in which disorders of language were to be studied in psychiatry until well into the twentieth century. After World War II, the so-called ‘cognitive revolution’ returned to the view that thought was more important than language. This encouraged psychiatrists to neglect the study of psychotic neologisms per se and consider ‘thought disorder’ as a primary abnormality in schizophrenia.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.

One thought on “Homosexuality, Asylums, and Lycanthrophy

  1. I really like historiography, and the history of science. Thanks for posting this! These items shine a light on how we have changed and morphed our understanding of psychology and the human mind. I particularly like the abstract on lycanthropy. To treat the mythological with expertise, or rather, to understand the underpinnings of the mythological are fascinating.
    Thanks again!

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