New Issue of History of Psychiatry: DSM, Autism, & Hospital Magazines

The December 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles that explore the magazines produced in Irish psychiatric hospitals, the nature of DSM classification, and the history of autism. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55): a bicentennial pathographical review,” by Johan Schioldann and Ib Søgaard. The abstract reads,

Researchers in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, medicine and theology have made exhaustive efforts to shed light on the elusive biography/pathography of the great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55). This ‘bicentennial’ article reviews his main pathographical diagnoses of, respectively, possible manic-depressive [bipolar] disease, epilepsy, complex partial seizure disorder, Landry-Guillain-Barré’s acute ascending paralysis, acute intermittent porphyria with possible psychiatric manifestations, and syphilidophobia.

“Through the lens of the hospital magazine: Downshire and Holywell psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Pauline Prior and Gillian McClelland. The abstract reads,

An exploration of the pages of two psychiatric hospital magazines, Speedwell from Holywell Hospital, Antrim, and The Sketch from Downshire Hospital, Downpatrick, reveals the activity-filled lives of patients and staff during the 1960s and 1970s. This was a time of great change in mental health care. It was also a time of political turbulence in Northern Ireland. With large in-patient populations, both hospitals had a range of occupational and sporting activities available to patients and staff. The magazines formed part of the effort to promote the ethos of a therapeutic community. While hospital magazines may be viewed as one aspect of an institutional system that allowed people to cut themselves off from the wider society, they also provided opportunities for budding writers to express their views on life in a hospital from the service-user perspective. As such, they offer some valuable insights into the lives of psychiatric patients.

“Neopositivism and the DSM psychiatric classification. An epistemological history. Part 2: Historical pathways, epistemological developments and present-day needs,” by Massimiliano Aragona. The abstract reads,

Little is known about the concrete historical sources for the use of neopositivist operational criteria by the DSM-III. This paper suggests that distinct sources operated implicitly. The current usefulness of the operational approach is questioned. It is shown that: (a) in epistemology, neopositivism has been replaced by more adequate accounts; (b) psychologists rejected operational definitions because these were unable to define the majority of mental phenomena; (c) mental symptoms cannot be directly described as such, because they already make part of the psychiatric diagnosis to which they belong. In conclusion, diagnosing is based on the hermeneutical co-construction of mental symptoms. The failure of the neopositivist programme suggests that it is time to reconcile scientific formalization and semiotic activity.

“The relevance of the early history of probability theory to current risk assessment practices in mental health care,” by Matthew Large. The abstract reads,

Probability theory is at the base of modern concepts of risk assessment in mental health. The aim of the current paper is to review the key developments in the early history of probability theory in order to enrich our understanding of current risk assessment practices.

“Autism in flux: a history of the concept from Leo Kanner to DSM-5,” by Berend Verhoeff. The abstract reads,

In this paper, I argue that a new relation between past and present – a supposed historical continuity in the meaning of autism – is created by the histories written by the discipline itself. In histories of autism written by ‘practitioner-historians’, a sense of scientific progress and an essentialist understanding of autism legitimize and reinforce current understandings and research directions in the field of autism. Conceptual discontinuities and earlier complexities and disputes concerning classifying and delineating autism are usually left out of the positivist narrative of autism. In an alternative history of the concept of autism, I demonstrate that there have been major shifts in the type of symptoms, signs and impairments that were – and are – thought to be essential and specific for autism.

“Richard Arwed Pfeifer – a pioneer of ‘medical pedagogy’ and an opponent of Paul Schröder,” by Holger Steinberg, Dirk Carius, and Hubertus Himmerich. The abstract reads,

Richard Arwed Pfeifer (1877–1957) was one of the initiators and foster fathers of the renowned child-psychiatric and special needs education workgroup at Leipzig University under Paul Schröder (1873–1941) in the 1920s and 1930s. This paper is an account of their dispute concerning the interrelations between child and adolescent psychiatry and special needs education, as well as their disagreement about whether adolescent psychopaths should be admitted to specialized child psychiatric wards or elsewhere. Moreover, Pfeifer questioned the practical relevance of the separation of constitutional and environmentally-based psychopathy and fought eugenic research, which he found incompatible with the ethics of his profession as a remedial teacher and child psychiatrist.

“Spiritist delusions and spiritism in the nosography of French psychiatry (1850–1950),” by Pascal Le Maléfan, Renaud Evrard, and Carlos S Alvarado. The abstract reads,

At the turn of the twentieth century there was a wave of delusions which had a direct link to spiritism in their form and content. These so-called spiritist or mediumistic delusions were the object of detailed study, and clinicians assigned them a place in nosography, especially in France. This work of classification was carried out as a function of the convictions and paradoxes that these delusions aroused; it also made it possible to question the relationship between pathology and belief. It is therefore important to emphasize certain ideological views of psychiatry on para-normality. We observed both a reductionist discourse concerning these domains, and at the same time their utilization in the construction of psychiatric knowledge.

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.