Special Issue: Psychotherapy in Europe

A special issue of History of the Human Sciences on “Psychotherapy in Europe,” guest edited by Sarah Marks, is now available. Full details follow below.

Introduction: Psychotherapy in Europe, by Sarah Marks. Abstract:

Psychotherapy was an invention of European modernity, but as the 20th century unfolded, and we trace how it crossed national and continental borders, its goals and the particular techniques by which it operated become harder to pin down. This introduction briefly draws together the historical literature on psychotherapy in Europe, asking comparative questions about the role of location and culture, and networks of transmission and transformation. It introduces the six articles in this special issue on Greece, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Russia, Britain and Sweden as well as its parallel special issue of History of Psychology on ‘Psychotherapy in the Americas’. It traces what these articles tell us about how therapeutic developments were entangled with the dramatic, and often traumatic, political events across the continent: in the wake of the Second World War, the emergence of Communist and authoritarian regimes, the establishment of welfare states and the advance of neoliberalism.

“Freud under the Acropolis: The challenging journey of psychoanalysis in 20th-century Greece (1915–1995),” by Danae Karydaki. Abstract:

Psychoanalysis was introduced to Greece in 1915 by the progressive educator Manolis Triantafyllidis and was further elaborated by Marie Bonaparte, Freud’s friend and member of the Greek royal family, and her psychoanalytic group in the aftermath of the Second World War. However, the accumulated traumas of the Nazi occupation (1941–1944), the Greek Civil War (1946–1949), the post-Civil-War tension between the Left and the Right, the military junta (1967–1974) and the social and political conditions of post-war Greece led this project and all attempts to establish psychoanalysis in Greece, to failure and dissolution. The restoration of democracy in 1974 and the rapid social changes it brought was a turning point in the history of Greek psychoanalysis: numerous psychoanalysts, who had trained abroad and returned after the fall of the dictatorship, were hired in the newly established Greek National Health Service (NHS), and contributed to the reform of Greek psychiatry by offering the option of psychoanalytic psychotherapy to the non-privileged. This article draws on a range of unexplored primary sources and oral history interview material, in order to provide the first systematic historical account in the English language of the complex relationship between psychoanalysis and Greek society, and the contribution of psychoanalytic psychotherapy to the creation of the Greek welfare state. In so doing, it not only attempts to fill a lacuna in the history of contemporary Greece, but also contributes to the broader historiography of psychotherapy and of Europe.

“‘Peace and happiness await us’: Psychotherapy in Yugoslavia, 1945–85,” by Mat Savelli. Abstract:

Previous accounts of psychiatry within Communist Europe have emphasized the dominance of biological approaches to mental health treatment. Psychotherapy was thus framed as a taboo or marginal component of East European psychiatric care. In more recent years, this interpretation has been re-examined as historians are beginning to delve deeper into the diversity of mental healthcare within the Communist world, noting many instances in which psychotherapeutic techniques and theory entered into clinical practice. Despite their excellent work uncovering these hitherto neglected histories, however, historians of the psy-disciplines in Eastern Europe (and indeed other parts of the world) have neglected to fully consider the ways that post-World War II psychotherapeutic developments were not simply continuations of pre-war psychoanalytic traditions, but rather products of emerging transnational networks and knowledge exchanges in the post-war period. This article highlights how psychotherapy became a leading form of treatment within Communist Yugoslavia. Inspired by theorists in France and the United Kingdom, among other places, Yugoslav practitioners became well versed in a number of psychotherapeutic techniques, especially ‘brief psychotherapy’ and group-based treatment. These developments were not accidents of ideology, whereby group psychotherapy might be accepted by authorities as a nod to some idea of ‘the collective’, but were rather products of economic limitations and strong links with international networks of practitioners, especially in the domains of social psychiatry and group analysis. The Yugoslav example underscores the need for more historical attention to transnational connections among psychotherapists and within the psy-disciplines more broadly.

“Hypnotherapies in 20th-century Hungary: The extraordinary career of Ferenc Völgyesi,” by Julia Gyimesi. Abstract:

This article traces the history of hypnotherapies in Hungary by exploring and interpreting the work of Ferenc (András) Völgyesi, a controversial physician, psychiatrist and forensic expert who gained remarkable fame in and beyond Hungary. It explores his work and its reception in the context of the complex, changing trends in European psychology between the 1920s and 1950s, drawing on published sources in a range of languages, and the archives of the Hungarian State Security. It uncovers experiments in human and animal hypnosis; Völgyesi’s engagement with the Hungarian psychoanalytic community; and the cultural, scientific, and esoteric, networks from which theories and practices of hypnosis emerged. This reminds us also that the development of psychotherapy in Europe cannot be disentangled from the history of parapsychology and western esotericism. The article also examines allegations of ethical abuses of hypnosis, and the shortcomings of Völgyesi’s theoretical and practical claims. It argues that this case illustrates how the history of European psychotherapy in the 20th century cannot be fully understood without taking into account the enduring fascination with hypnotherapies into the postwar period – re-inscribed, in this case, through Pavlovian theories.

“Sterility and suggestion: Minor psychotherapy in the Soviet Union, 1956–1985,” by Aleksandra Brokman. Abstract:

This article explores the concept of minor or general psychotherapy championed by physicians seeking to popularise psychotherapy in the post-Stalin Soviet Union. Understood as a set of skills and principles meant to guide behaviour towards and around patients, this form of psychotherapy was portrayed as indispensable for physicians of all specialities as well as for all personnel of medical institutions. This article shows how, as a result of Soviet teaching on the power of suggestion to influence human organisms, every interaction with patients was conceptualised as a form of psychotherapy, leading to the embrace of placebo as a legitimate form of therapy, and to the blurring of the boundary between therapy and other activities in the clinic. The principles of minor psychotherapy reveal a concept of psychotherapy that is much wider, and rooted in different priorities, than the dominant understanding of this type of treatment found in Western Europe and North America. This article addresses the ethical principles implicit in the Soviet perspective, demonstrating that despite fighting against the uncaring and dismissive attitude of other physicians, Soviet psychotherapists remained rooted in the paternalistic tradition. Finally, it traces the efforts to establish minor psychotherapy as standard practice in medical institutions, which, like many other plans and ambitions of Soviet psychotherapists, were constrained by a lack of resources in the healthcare system.

“Of mountains, lakes and essences: John Teasdale and the transmission of mindfulness,” by Matthew Drage. Abstract:

In this article I examine an important episode in the growth of ‘mindfulness’ as a biomedical modality in Britain: the formation and establishment of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) by John Teasdale and his colleagues Mark Williams and Zindel Segal. My study, focusing on Teasdale’s contribution, combines ethnographic, oral historical and archival research to understand how mindfulness was disseminated or, to use a term sometimes used by mindfulness practitioners themselves, ‘transmitted’. Drawing on theoretical support from Max Weber, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, I argue that transmission had a very specific form within the Buddhistic milieu that Teasdale occupied and within which he developed MBCT. To ‘transmit’ mindfulness was to transmit an experiential essence; a type of subjectivity that was seen as perennial, universal and radically distinct from its historical context. In tracing the recurring metaphysical, metaphorical and visual tropes of mindfulness and its transmission, I attempt to understand how Teasdale was embedded in both local and global networks of discourse and practice, and how his life and work contributed and depended upon an assemblage whose elements (institutional, technical, conceptual, textual) straddled empiricist psychology and religious mysticism. I also examine how authority, experience and knowledge were closely interwoven in the birth of British mindfulness, coming together to form an affectively compelling ‘diagram’ that shaped the way mindfulness was practiced and disseminated. In doing so, I aim to open up the possibility of studying the history of the human sciences from a new perspective: one which places an emphasis on the emotional impetus generated by metaphysical assumptions.

“Teaching ‘small and helpless’ women how to live: Dialectical Behaviour Therapy in Sweden, ca 1995–2005,” by Åsa Jansson. Abstract:

In 1995, a Swedish pilot study of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was launched to investigate its therapeutic efficacy and cost-effectiveness as treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in suicidal women. In the same year, a sweeping reform of psychiatric care commenced, dramatically reducing the number of beds by the end of the decade. The psychiatry reform was presented as an important factor prompting the need for a community-based treatment for Borderline patients. This article suggests that the introduction of DBT in Sweden, and its relationship to the reform, can only be adequately explained with reference to the wider political shift occurring at the time, whereby the Swedish welfare state and its guiding ethos of egalitarianism were abandoned in favour of a neoliberal ‘choice revolution’. With the new liberalism, hard work and individual responsibility replaced the idea of a Swedish ‘people’s home’, a nationwide community and social support network. This language was reflected in DBT, which sought to teach patients the ‘skills’ necessary ‘to create a life worth living’. In this context, therapy was constituted as a form of ‘work’ that the patient had to undertake to improve. Moreover, DBT rejected the prevailing view of Borderline patients as ‘manipulative’ and ‘aggressive’, suggesting instead that they were ‘helpless’, ‘weak’ and unable to regulate their emotions. This new Borderline persona fit neatly into the new liberal discourse: she could be taught to become a rational and independent person able to cope in a society that valued individual responsibility over social support.

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.