The History of Mental Symptoms: Descriptive Psychopathology Since the Nineteenth Century

Cambridge University Press (1996)

Abstract

Since psychiatry remains a descriptive discipline, it is essential for its practitioners to understand how the language of psychiatry came to be formed. This important book, written by a psychiatrist-historian, traces the genesis of the descriptive categories of psychopathology and examines their interaction with the psychological and philosophical context within which they arose. The author explores particularly the language and ideas that have characterised descriptive psychopathology from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. He presents a masterful survey of the history of the main psychiatric symptoms, from the metaphysics of classical antiquity to the operational criteria of today. Tracing the evolution of concepts such as memory, consciousness, will and personality, and of symptoms ranging from catalepsy and aboulia to anxiety and self-harm, this book provides fascinating insights into the subjective nature of mental illness, and into the ideas of British, Continental and American authorities who sought to clarify and define it.

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