Psychological trauma from the perspective of medical history: from Paracelsus to Freud

Poiesis and Praxis 6 (3-4):191-202 (2008)

Psychological traumatisation, as we understand it today, was—in terms of the history of ideas—anticipated by various approaches which have had a lasting impact on modern psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychosomatic medicine. On the one hand, there is the traditional concept of possession and exorcism with its impressive psychodynamics. On the other hand, there is the theory of the imagination, of an illusion in the sense of a pathogenic infection. Especially the pathological teachings of Paracelsus (sixteenth century) and Johann Baptist van Helmont (seventeenth century)—the latter having advanced the former’s alchemist approach—demonstrate the extent to which demonological, parasitological, and psychological ideas were amalgamated in their ontological notion of a disease. Only the introduction of hypnotism in the middle of the nineteenth century made possible a psychological or psychodynamic understanding of psychological trauma in the modern sense. Hypnotism was striving to strictly dissociate from the magical and natural philosophical speculations of mesmerism and its theory was quite compatible with the model representations of scientific medicine. Sigmund Freud was able to tie in his ideas of hysteria and neurosis with this concept and especially to define repression of (infantile) sexuality as the cause of a culturally ineluctable psychological trauma. Finally, a brief survey of medical history is given to explore artificial trauma as a healing factor.
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DOI 10.1007/s10202-008-0064-0
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