Therapeutic encounters. Treatment of mental illness from late 18th to early 20th century

Project: ResearchIndividual research project

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • History


In my current postdoc project, I look at the treatment of mental illness from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. More specifically, I focus on how the encounter between patient and practitioner was conceptualized and valued from the practitioner's point of view. How were patients to be addressed and treated? What roles fell to patients and practitioners? The therapeutic encounter was not limited to the strictly professional; it was, in fact, a deeply subjective experience, lived out between two individuals with their own personal experiences and viewpoints. In what way, if any, was the encounter considered a significant factor in the process of recovery, or even relevant in the treatment of mental illness? I investigate how these questions were addressed within different fields involved in the treatment of the mentally ill, such as mesmerism, hypnotism, medicine, psychiatry, neurology, and psychotherapy. My source material consists of a wide range of literature concerning the treatment of mental illness, spanning from mesmerists’ case studies to practical handbooks in asylum treatment.

By studying such a wide range of disciplines over a long time period, it is possible to get a broad picture of the therapeutic landscape and the conflicting views on the role of the practitioner, the proper ways of treating patients, and, ultimately, the healing power of the therapeutic encounter. These are questions that are still highly relevant in the treatment of mental illness.

I use a hermeneutical approach, inspired by philosopher Hans Georg Gadamers writings on the hermeneutics in medical encounters and by philosopher Fredrik Svenaeus discussions on how the concepts of hermeneutic dialogue, fronesis and empathy can be combined and made use of in an investigation of medical practice and encounters between patient and practitioner.

Layman's description

I min aktuella forskning studerar jag behandling av psykisk ohälsa från sent 1700-tal till tidigt 1900-tal, med fokus på mötet mellan behandlare och patient. Närmare bestämt undersöker jag hur behandlare inom olika discipliner förhöll sig till det personliga mötet med patienten. Hur skulle detta möte se ut, hur skulle behandlaren förhålla sig till patienten, vilken betydelse hade behandlarens egen person, i vilken mån kunde den mellanmänskliga relationen bidra till patientens tillfrisknande? Jag studerar vetenskapliga skrifter, handböcker och fallstudier från de discipliner som ägnade sig åt behandling av psykisk ohälsa: animal magnetism, hypnotism, allmänmedicin, psykiatri, neurologi och psykoterapi.

Syftet med att studera flera olika discipliner under en lång tidsperiod är att kunna få en bred bild av det terapeutiska landskapet och de tolkningskonflikter som rörde behandlarens roll, det korrekta bemötandet av patienter och, i slutänden, den terapeutiska betydelsen av det personliga mötet mellan behandlare och patient. Dessa frågor är fortfarande högst aktuella i dagens behandling av psykisk ohälsa.
Effective start/end date2013/04/292017/12/31