By Natalie Fraize
The earlier theories were characterized by their organic causes and treatments to match. As time passed and hysteria developed, psychological theories arose. Though the causes and treatments of hysteria experienced many changes and the symptoms ranged, the disease remained across many cultures and for a significant period of time.
Around 1860 the French Alienists grouped hysteria with madness, hence classifying it as a psychological disorder (Libbrecht, 1995). Two decades later in Germany Greisinger went on to claim that not only was hysteria a mental illness but a cause of mental illness (Libbrecht, 1995). In 1878-79 Krafft-Ebing published his work on hysteria in which he created three categories. The first being ephemeral hysterical states of dillusion, second hysterical hallucinatory madness, and third hysterical psychoneuroses and hysterical degenerative madness (Libbrecht, 1995).
Libbrecht elaborates on the specifics of Krafft-Ebing’s divisions: The first group is categorized by fits of delusion of five types that are not hysterical fits; this second category contains recurring delusions of the first type; the final group is broken into two categories: the first of mania and melancholia which are curable, and the second which is chronic hysteria and much more serious (1995).
A notable period in the history of hysteria is during Charcot’s work with it between 1870 and 1893. He is most well-known for his use of hypnosis as treatment. Unfortunately most of Charcot’s scientific work is overshadowed by the shows he put on when he demonstrated hysteria and hypnosis. Trained in medicine, Charcot used a method of scientific observation to classify hysteria, eventually labeling it hystero-epilepsy (Libbrecht, 1995).
During this time hysteria patients would sometimes mimic symptoms of other patients whether it was a part of the illness or to better fit Charcot’s description of hysteria. While Charcot’s reputation as a notable scientist may have suffered from his displays, the view of women suffering from this mental illness was arguably hurt worse. Although there were downfalls to Charcot’s work, he was able to provide treatment for patients suffering from nonorganically based physical symptoms (Krohn, 1978).
the cathartic method
It cannot be denied that Charcot’s work was important, in fact it influenced the work of another well-known psychological figure: Freud. Along with Charcot, Breuer also impacted how Freud viewed and treated hysteria. Before Freud consulted the work of Charcot and Breuer, he used hydrotherapy and electrotherapy with low to moderate results (Fancher, 1998). From Charcot, Freud tried the use of hypnosis and suggestion. Stemming from this was the cathartic method, credited to Freud and Breuer. Here patients while under hypnosis would recall “emotionally charged experiences” where they originally pent up the emotions (Fancher, 1998). Freud and Breuer introduced questioning the patient into the known process of hypnosis (Krohn, 1978). Upon remembering, the patients would be encouraged to release the emotions. This method showed more success. Past psychological traumas were hypothesized the be the cause of the hysterical symptoms (Krohn, 1978).
Fancher, Raymond E. (1998). Commentary on “The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis.” Sigmund Freud (1910). Classics in the History of Psychoanalysis, 1-5. Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Freud/Origin/commentary.htm.
Krohn, Alan (1978). Hysteria: The elusive neurosis. Psychological Issues, 12.
Libbrecht, Katrien (1995). Hysterical Psychosis: A Historical Survey. New Brunswick and London: Transaction.