The June issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology is now online. The month’s Time Capsule section examines the work of British psychologist Charles S. Myers on shell shock during World War I. Historian of medicine and psychiatry Edgar Jones examines Myers efforts establish shell shock as a legitimate condition – and not mere malingering – and to treat those affected. As Jones described,
The first cases Myers described exhibited a range of perceptual abnormalities, such as loss of or impaired hearing, sight and sensation, along with other common physical symptoms, such as tremor, loss of balance, headache and fatigue. He concluded that these were psychological rather than physical casualties, and believed that the symptoms were overt manifestations of repressed trauma.
Along with William McDougall, another psychologist with a medical background, Myers argued that shell shock could be cured through cognitive and affective reintegration. The shell-shocked soldier, they thought, had attempted to manage a traumatic experience by repressing or splitting off any memory of a traumatic event. Symptoms, such as tremor or contracture, were the product of an unconscious process designed to maintain the dissociation. Myers and McDougall believed a patient could only be cured if his memory were revived and integrated within his consciousness, a process that might require a number of sessions.
The full article, Shell Shocked, can be read online here.
AHP readers may also be interested in a series of 5 films of World War I era soldiers suffering from shell shock posted online by the Wellcome Library (previously discussed on AHP here). The first of these is featured below.