Treating Functional Somatic Disorders in WWI in JHMAS

The October 2013 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is now online. Included in this issue is an open access article by Stefanie Caroline Linden and Edgar Jones, both of Kings College London, that may be of interest to AHP readers. InĀ “German Battle Casualties: The Treatment of Functional Somatic Disorders during World War I” Linden and Jones describe treatment innovations that occurred in the face of neurological disorders with no discernible physical cause. The treatments developed for these disorders were influenced by work in animal learning and neurophysiology, tracked with quantitative outcome measures, and influenced therapeutic approaches for decades to come. Full article details follow below.

“German Battle Casualties: The Treatment of Functional Somatic Disorders during World War I,” by Stefanie Caroline Linden and Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,

World War I witnessed the admission of large numbers of German soldiers with neurological symptoms for which there was no obvious organic cause. This posed a considerable challenge for the military and medical authorities and resulted in an active discussion on the etiology and treatment of these disorders. Current historiography is reliant on published physician accounts, and this represents the first study of treatment approaches based on original case notes. We analyzed patient records from two leading departments of academic psychiatry in Germany, those at Berlin and Jena, in conjunction with the contemporaneous medical literature. Treatment, which can be broadly classified into reward and punishment, suggestion, affective shock, cognitive learning, and physiological methods, was developed in the context of the emerging fields of animal learning and neurophysiology. A further innovative feature was the use of quantitative methods to assess outcomes. These measures showed good response rates, though most cured patients were not sent back to battle because of their presumed psychopathic constitution. While some treatments appear unnecessarily harsh from today’s perspective and were also criticized by leading psychiatrists of the time, the concentration of effort and involvement of so many senior doctors led to the development of psychotherapeutic methods that were to influence the field of psychiatric therapy for decades to come.

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.