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Greg Eghigian, PhD

Greg Eghigian, PhD

Greg Eghigian, PhD, Section Editor for Psychiatric Times History of Psychiatry, is Professor of Modern History and former Director of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Penn State University, University Park, Pa. He writes and teaches, among other things, on the history of madness, mental illness, and mental health in the Western world. He is the editor and author of numerous books, including The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health (Routledge, 2017) and From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and its Treatment in Western Civilization (Rutgers University Press, 2010). He is also founding co-editor of the scholarly blog, h-madness.

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If historians have demonstrated anything, it is that psychiatry, clinical psychology, and psychotherapy cannot be neatly associated with any one particular kind of political ideology or movement.

Concerns are raised about DSM-5 revisions in the definition of depression. Many worry that eliminating the bereavement exception in the guidelines for the diagnosis of major depressive disorder represents a dangerous move.

Very important—but generally neglected—aspects of the history of psychiatry provide something of a glimpse of what historians of mental health and illness are mulling over these days.

The history of the 19th and early 20th century asylum is a history of locking up patients . . . or so it has seemed. Since the 1950s and 1960s when the history of psychiatry first took off, scholars have generally conceded that asylums were primarily institutions of confinement.

A common misconception about the history of mental illness is that, before Freud and psychoanalysis, there was no such thing as talk therapies or what is commonly known today as psychotherapy.

Historical records reveal Don Juan syndrome was a recognized diagnosis that referred to forms of hypersexuality and sex addiction.

In last month’s column, I discussed how 19th century psychiatrists began recognizing the possibility that a mental disorder might affect only one facet of an individual’s personality (volition), leaving others relatively untouched.

Psychology and psychiatry at the turn of the last century considered the will an indispensable category. Not so today.

What is often forgotten, however, is that things such as client-centered therapy, “mental hygiene,” and “self-help” were also responses to another phenomenon—the charismatic physician.

In a recent college course, Dr Eghigian asked his students to discuss long-term patterns and trends in the history of the handling of mental illness. He was struck by a recurring tendency. Most students portrayed the history of mental health in one of two ways.


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