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Peters, U.H. (2001). On Nazi Psychiatry. Psychoanal. Rev., 88(2):295-309.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Review, 88(2):295-309

On Nazi Psychiatry

Uwe Henrik Peters, M.D.

The term “Nazi psychiatry” is not yet well known, although the psychiatry of the Nazis has been amply researched. Frequently the opinion is stated that German psychiatry during the Nazi period was indeed a psychiatry of the Nazis. Nothing could be more wrong. The truth is that during the time of Nazi rule German psychiatry almost simultaneously reached its highest level, and was the leading psychiatry in the world while, on the other hand, it plummeted to its deepest abyss. Before going into some details it may be useful to summarize some essentials.

Pinnacles of German Psychiatry

Between 1899 and 1933 many well-known psychiatric discoveries and theories surfaced: Kraepelin (1899) described schizophrenia, which Bleuler (1911) gave its ultimate name. Carl Wernicke (1900) published a description and theory of schizoaffective psychoses, and practically all key psychoanalytical books by Freud, Jung, Adler, and Horney, among others, had been published. At the same time nonpsychoanalytical psychotherapies reached a peak (Eliasberg, 1936): Ernst Kretschmer (1921) published his constitutional psychiatry; the ideas of ganzheit, or structural psychology, were adapted extensively to psychiatry (Bertalanffy, 1937, 1968; Birnbaum, 1923; Von Domarus, 1929, 1964) and Karl Jaspers (1913) published his pivotal philosophy of psychiatry. Hans Berger (1929, 1969) discovered electroencephalography of the brain, and the first somatic therapies, insulin shock (Sakel, 1934, 1938) and convulsive therapy (Von Meduna, 1935, 1936) were discovered.

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