Feb 2021 HoP, Special Spotlight Section: Mental Health in Historical Context

The February 2021 issue of History of Psychology is now available. The issue includes a Special Spotlight Section on “Mental Health in Historical Context.” Full details below.

Special Spotlight Section: Mental Health in Historical Context

Graiver, I. (2021). A historical perspective on mental health: Proposal for a dialogue between history and psychology. History of Psychology, 24(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000139. Abstract:

This contribution aims to promote a dialogue between history and psychology by outlining a direction for future research at the intersection of these disciplines. In particular, it seeks to demonstrate the potential contributions of history to psychology by employing the category of mental health in a historical context. The analysis focuses on notions of psychological health that were developed in late antiquity, especially the equation between “health of the soul” and dispassion (apatheia) within the Christian monastic movement. This theologically informed notion of what constitutes positive human functioning and well-being is examined in view of modern attempts, in mainstream and positive psychology, to define mental health. The optimism concerning the naturalness of virtue and the malleability of human nature that underlies late antique notions of “health of the soul” becomes noticeable in its absence once we turn to modern notions of mental health. It thus provides an illuminating counter-example against which to compare and analyze modern attempts to define mental health. A comparison of these alternative notions human flourishing offers an opportunity to reflect on and test the validity of contemporary attempts to define this condition in a culturally sensitive manner.

Lampe, K. (2021). Mental health and transcendence in antiquity and today: Comment on Graiver (2021). History of Psychology, 24(1), 13–16. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000151. Abstract:

I am sympathetic to Inbar Graiver’s (see record 2021-21903-001) claim that modern Western psychology can benefit from a dialogue with history and would emphasize that her article points toward two distinct ways this is so: first, on the basis of historiographical representations of individual experience; second, on the basis of the history of concepts. I also accept her generalization that modern psychology and psychiatry have often focused on pathology and that among the key reasons for this is the biomedical assumption that “an organism is healthy to the extent that it is not diseased” (pp. 7–8). (I am more diffident about the degree to which Freudian psychoanalysis remains responsible for this today. ) Insofar as Western psychologists do attempt to theorize a universal model of “mental health,” Graiver rightly highlights the danger they will not perceive their own culturally specific presuppositions. Though I am no expert in Christian monastic hagiography or theorizations of “the health of the soul,” I am sure both can contribute to illuminating some of these presuppositions. This article also raises many questions for me. For the sake of brevity, I will address only two of them. The first concerns the general conceptualization of “mental health,” whereas the second focuses on the roles of relationality and transcendence in mental health.

Ustinova, Y. (2021). Mental well-being in ancient Greece: Comment on Graiver (2021). History of Psychology, 24(1), 17–21. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000155. Abstract:

In her thought-provoking article, Graiver (see record 2021-21903-001) argues that many early Christian monks achieved sustained psychological health, perceived as joyful serenity by their contemporaries, and admired within their milieu and the society at large. This state was attained by means of dispassion (apatheia) and culminated in spiritual enlightenment. In the author’s opinion, conclusions of this historical research call for a reassessment of modern attitudes to psychological health that can be construed only “in a culturally sensitive manner” (p. 1). In my opinion, limitation of the evidence on mental health in Ancient Greece to medical authors only is hardly justified. The word psuchê is virtually ignored by Greek medical authors. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Rotman, Y. (2021). Moral psychopathology and mental health: Modern and ancient. History of Psychology, 24(1), 22–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000184. Abstract:

Following three turning points in the historical development of psychology this study examines how the relation between mental health and the state of illness is linked to the concept of “passions.” The first was the birth of modern psychiatry in 18th century France. The second was the development of the field of inquiry in antiquity about the psuch? and its mental activities, and the third was the turn of early Christian thought about mind and soul. A comparison between early modern and ancient concepts of “the passions” reveals the moral and ethical aspects of the concept “mental health,” and shows that more than for any other kind of illness, the history of mental illness and mental health is embedded within a moralistic philosophical perspective. Pathology as a field of study of “the passions,” whatever their definition was, enabled thinkers to refer to mental illness and health in moral terms. Although “passions” meant different things to different authors in different times, it was used by all as means to link between inner mental activities and the way the body react to the outside world. We can see it as an obligatory element to conceptualize illness, disorder, and health in regards to mental activities. Pagan ancient authors as well as early Christian authors used it to construct new theories and praxes about mental health, while early modern psychiatrists used it to develop corporeal methods of cure. In all currents of thought the concept of “passions” and the definition of the ways in which they affected the mind were used to distinguish mental illness and mental health from any other type of illness and health.

Regular Articles

Bandrés, J. (2021). Neo-Catholics against new psychology in 19th century Spain: The journal La Ciencia Cristiana (1877–1887). History of Psychology, 24(1), 34–54. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000181. Abstract:

In the 1870s, Krausists and Catholics struggled for hegemony in Spanish educational institutions. In the midst of the fray, a group of neo-Kantian intellectuals, led by José del Perojo, set out to renew psychology in Spain by introducing Wundt’s physiological psychology and Darwinian evolutionism. Neither Catholics nor Krausists welcomed the proposal. In the case of Catholics, the fundamentalist group led by professor of metaphysics Juan Manuel Ortí y Lara founded the journal La Ciencia Cristiana [Christian Science] to counter the neo-Kantian and Darwinian influences. In this article, I present a selection of texts from the journal to show how the editors tried to discredit the foundations of physiological psychology and evolutionism, as well as to promote a scholastic philosophy based on the literal interpretation of the texts of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Finally, I suggest that the identification of Catholic philosophy with fundamentalist scholasticism delayed the development of neo-scholastic psychology in Spain.

Shapira, M. (2021). A case for a “middle-way career” in the history of psychology: The work of pioneering psychoanalyst Marjorie Brierley in early 20th century Britain. History of Psychology, 24(1), 55–76. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000185. Abstract:

Historians often focus on the most famous or radical, prolific theoreticians among psychoanalysts, thereby at times reproducing the self-centered biases of their subjects rather than providing a useful critique. I offer instead a revisionist view of this history of psychology, arguing that we should pay more attention to a variety of middle-way actors who combined diverse forms of often-dismissed labor that included practice, editorial, and administrative work, and who tried to find a less rigid theoretical middle ground to toil. These middle-way actors were often women and although scholars have commented on the prominence of women in the early societies of psychoanalysis, we have not conducted adequate research on all these early active members and their roles. This article presents an example of such an actor, Marjorie Brierley (1893–1984), one of the first women psychoanalysts in Britain who made unique, yet unresearched, varied contributions—intellectual and non-intellectual—to the famous interwar debate on femininity and to organizational and clinical work. If we are to fully understand the establishment, cultivation, and maintenance of the flourishing field of psychoanalysis in the early 20th century, we must account for the work of women like her.

Lišková, K., & Szegedi, G. (2021). Sex and gender norms in marriage: Comparing expert advice in socialist Czechoslovakia and Hungary between the 1950s and 1980s. History of Psychology, 24(1), 77–99. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000179. Abstract:

First, we argue that sexuality was central to socialist modernization: Sex and gender were reformulated whenever the socialist project was being revised. Expertise was crucial in these reformulations, which harnessed people’s support for the changing regimes. Moreover, the role of the expert in society grew over time, leading to ever expanding and diversified fields of expertise. Second, gender and sexuality stood disjointed in these changes. Whereas in the early 1950s sex was a taboo subject in Hungary, in the last three decades of socialism it was gradually acknowledged and emancipated, along with a discursive push to alter gender roles within marriage. Conversely, Czechoslovak experts paid close attention to sexuality and particularly to female pleasure from the outset of the regime, highlighting the benefits of gender equality for conjugal satisfaction; yet, they changed course with Normalization (1969–1989) when they embraced gender hierarchy as the structure for a good marriage and a fulfilling sex life. It follows that gender and sexuality can develop independently: Change in one is not necessarily bound to similar progress in the other. Thus, third, whereas there was a shared initial push for gender equality, there was no unified socialist drive for the liberalization of sexuality.

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.