Going beyond the scientific persona of the psychiatrist
10 mei 2021, door webredactie NVMG
Voor de website van de History, Health & Healing schreef Eva Andersen een Engelstalige column over het bestuderen van de geschiedenis van de psychiatrie en hoe hierbij het netwerk van relaties van de psychiater, familie en vrienden, mede van belang kan zijn bij de psychiatrische praktijk of zelfs de oprichting van psychiatrische instituten. Zij betoogt aan de hand van een voorbeeld dat deze meer persoonlijke kant van de medische en wetenschappelijke ontwikkeling vaak over het hoofd wordt gezien.
Eva Andersen is a doctoral researcher at the C2DH center of the University of Luxembourg. Her PhD project is about the distribution and evaluation of psychiatric knowledge in mid-19th and mid-20th century Europe, with a specific focus on how transnational contacts played a role in this dissimination process. She defends her thesis on May 28, 2021.
Going beyond the scientific persona of the psychiatrist by Eva Andersen
Being a historian of psychiatry, I often focus on the psychiatrist as an expert or chiefly pay attention to the scientific changes that took place. Yet, behind these psychiatrists’ professional façade, stood their family and friends. I – and probably several historians of medicine, psychiatry and science with me – often forget that they too could influence developments.
Accidently stumbling upon archival documents from the Italian psychiatrist Guilio Cesare Ferrari made me contemplate about the friendships psychiatrists formed with their colleagues and the role their families played during their careers as asylum physicians. To what extent did these relationships, even across borders, influence medical and psychiatric practices or shape the creation of institutions? Were these relationships defining for the cooperation forged between psychiatrists? In this column I briefly want to reflect on the possible impact and meaning of this forgotten component.
In the early 20th century, abuse in psychiatric institutions was still commonplace, creating a need for change. Mental hygiene leagues became important movements in the western world to improve mental health care. The American Clifford W. Beers, himself an ex-psychiatric patient, founded some of the earliest leagues in 1908 and 1909. In Belgium, the Ligue nationale belge d’hygiène mentale was founded in 1922 by a group of psychiatrists and physicians, Auguste Ley being one of its main actors. Two years later, an Italian branch, founded by Guilio Cesare Ferrari, would follow.
What bound the American, Belgian and Italian mental hygiene leagues together did not only consist of similar social and scientific goals. Aside from having comparable professional interests, Beers, Ley and Ferrari were also very good friends. Professional and private relationships often blended into each other, and…
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