Sunday, November 19, 2006

Body Dysmorphic Disorder circa 1808

Recently while reading an article by Philippe Pinel on melancholia in the Encyclopedie Méthodique of 1808 I ran accross a description of a treatment for what we might call Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
"Other… [melancholics] imagine having a nose or lips of immense size. We have been able to cure them by making an incision from which the patient sees blood run, and then showing them a great piece of flesh that we say we have removed." Not exactly "moral treatment!"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

David Hume attempts to do psychotherapy

While I'm on the subject of philosophers, here is an anecdote that I ran accross in Paul Laffey's "Two registers of madness in Enlightenment Britain," History of Psychiatry 13(2002) 367-80. The philosopher "David Hume was hired to provide tutelage for the increasingly insane Lord Annandale in the mid 1740s, and began this period convinced that Annandale needed moral guidance from a 'friend' upon whose 'conduct and discretion' hopes for recovery depended. Hume found it 'strange [that] so considerable sums shoul'd be lavisht on apothecaries and physicians, who perhaps do hurt, and a moderate sum be grudg'd to one who sacrifices all his time to him.' However, if Hume was indeed experimenting with a moral account of insanity, experience soon set set him to rights, and not three weeks later he conceded that Annandale's 'caprice came from nobody, and no cause, except physical ones.' This story does serve to imply that some thinkers were prepared to assay moral models of mental derangement, but Hume's rapid abandonment of this progect shows, …that insanity's somatic substrate remained firmly entrenched as the dominant framework. And notably, Hume wrote nothing further on madness as a philosophical problem."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Descartes Self-Analysis

Here is a sweet litle anecdote that I ran accross in Geneviève Rodis-Lewis' book Descartes: His Life and Thought. Descartes wrote:"I loved a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time aftersward, in seeing crooss-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and i did not know that was the reason. In contrast, since I have reflected on it, and recognized it as a defect, I have no longer been so moved." Descartes made this very personal confidence to Chanut, to transmit to Queen Christina of Sweeden, who asked what "causes…often incite us to love one person rather than another before we know their merit."

Monday, November 06, 2006

The air loom gang: the strange and true story of James Tilly Matthews and his visionary madness. Mike Jay

This is an extraordinary book. James Tilly Mathews, whose involvement in the French Revolution, may have led to his incarceration at Bethlem Hospital, that is Bedlam, developed an elaborate delusional system about the Air-loom Gang while there. This delusion was then the subject Illustrations of Madness, written by Mathews' psychiatrist John Haslam. Jay's book sensitively analyzes Mathews' delusions, his involvement in the French revolution and his relationship with Haslam. Since Haslam's career and the fate of Bedlam in the early nineteenth century are central to understanding the development of psychiatry in Great Britain in that period, Jay's book is also a readable and reliable introduction to that chapter in the history of psychiatry.