The September issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are pieces on child psychiatry, Nazi euthenasia, psychosurgery, and more. Full details below.
“The Baldovan Institution Abuse Inquiry: A forgotten scandal,” David May. Abstract:
In this paper, I resurrect a long-forgotten inquiry into abuse and maladministration at an institution for people with learning disabilities, the Baldovan Institution near Dundee, that has lain buried in the archives for the past 60 years. I contrast the response to it with the very different response to the similar revelations of the Ely Hospital Inquiry more than a decade later. Whereas Ely opened up the institutional sector to greater public scrutiny and brought with it a formal commitment from the government to shift the balance of care away from the long-term hospital, Baldovan produced recommendations that were limited to the institution and had no impact on public policy or institutional practice. I consider the reasons for this and its implications.
“The influence of Max Weber on the concept of empathic understanding (Verstehen) in the psychopathology of Karl Jaspers,” Massimiliano Aragona. Abstract:
This paper explores key concepts in the writings of Weber in the years preceding the publication of the first edition of Karl Jaspers’ Allgemeine Psychopathologie, focusing on the concept of understanding (Verstehen). This is a key hermeneutic concept and is discussed within the larger context of the epistemological and methodological reflections of both authors. They similarly tried to import the understanding within the humanistic disciplines as a rigorous but anti-reductionist scientific method. However, while Weber tried to mix explanation and understanding according to a legal metaphor, Jaspers retained Dilthey’s sharper distinction between explanation in natural sciences and understanding in humanistic sciences. Finally, Jaspers’ understanding is relatively more empathic, while Weber’s understanding is more rationalistic.
“‘Dementia praecocissima’: The Sante De Sanctis model of mental disorder in child psychiatry in the 20th century,” Giorgia Morgese, Giovanni Pietro Lombardo. Abstract:
The aim of this article is to describe the nosographical contribution of the Italian psychiatrist Sante De Sanctis (1862–1935) to early twentieth-century child psychiatry. De Sanctis first proposed the category of ‘dementia praecocissima’ in 1906, and it was recognized by Kraepelin. Dementia praecocissima has its roots in a theoretical and methodological conception of mental disorder based on ‘psycho-physical proportionalism’ and the ‘law of circle’. This article deals with De Sanctis’s model, which has so far been neglected by historiographers; it shows the pioneering role that this Italian psychiatrist played in child psychiatry in Italy.
“The ‘Poitrot Report’, 1945: The first public document on Nazi euthanasia,” Thomas Müller, Bernd Reichelt. Abstract:
The aim of this paper is to shed light on the so-called ‘Poitrot Report’, submitted to the French Military Government in Baden-Baden, Germany, in December 1945 and published in a reduced German version in 1946. Its author was the French-Moroccan psychiatrist Robert Poitrot, who had been put in charge of the public mental asylums in Südwürttemberg after World War II. Poitrot took responsibility for restoring psychiatric care during the occupation, and was also eager to document Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and to start investigating the role of staff in mental hospitals during National Socialism. Focusing on the ‘Poitrot Report’, this paper also reflects on life in Württemberg mental hospitals and the interaction between French representatives such as Poitrot and regional German medical staff.
“The introduction of leucotomy in Germany: National Socialism, émigrés, a divided Germany and the development of neurosurgery,” Lara Rzesnitzek. Abstract:
Thinking about the chronology of the introduction of leucotomy in Germany sheds new light on the hypothesis of a special ‘radical’ approach of German psychiatry to the treatment of the mentally ill during the period of National Socialism. Moreover, it offers new insights into the transnational and interdisciplinary conditions of the introduction of leucotomy in early divided post-war Germany.
“The Kirkbride buildings in contemporary culture (1850–2015): From ‘moral management’ to horror films,” Francisco Pérez-Fernández, Francisco López-Muñoz. Abstract:
The so-called ‘Kirkbride Plan’ is a type of mental institution designed by the American psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride. The Kirkbride-design asylums were built from 1848 to the end of the nineteenth century. Their structural characteristics were subordinated to a certain approach to moral management: exposure to natural light, beautiful views and good air circulation. These hospitals used several architectural styles, but they all had a similar general plan. The popularity of the model decreased for theoretical and economic reasons, so many were demolished or reused, but at least 25 of the original buildings became protected places. Over the years, surrounded by a legendary aura, these buildings have become a leitmotif of contemporary popular culture: ‘the asylum of terror’.
“How amytal changed psychopharmacy: Off-label uses of sodium amytal (1920–40),” Ariel Gershon, Edward Shorter. Abstract:
In the early 1930s, American neurologist and psychiatrist William Bleckwenn used sodium amytal to render catatonic patients responsive, so that he could engage in talk therapy. Bleckwenn found a new, ‘off-label’ use for this anaesthetic and anxiolytic medication in psychiatry and, in doing so, allowed for important discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of catatonia. Pharmacological textbooks reveal a ‘label’, while the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office reveals explorations ‘off label’ of barbiturates. The ‘off-label’ use of barbiturates facilitated talk therapy, heralding an important shift in psychopharmacy. Drugs previously only used as chemical restraints became a form of treatment for specific psychiatric diseases. The current strictures against off-label prescribing are overprescriptive and close off innovative new uses.