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Wisdom, J.O. (1961). A Methodological Approach to the Problem of Hysteria. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 42:224-237.

(1961). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 42:224-237

A Methodological Approach to the Problem of Hysteria

J. O. Wisdom

I. Introduction

Hysteria was the first new field opened up by Freud. It was the most extensively studied in the early years of psycho-analysis and it led to an immense number of discoveries. Indeed it stamped a well-nigh indelible pattern on psycho-analysis, so much so that other equally important disorders even still tend to be viewed through the eyes of the theory of hysteria. Perhaps something of this was in Rycroft's (35) mind when he remarked that the theory of primary process might have been different if Freud had had a practice consisting mainly of obsessionals.

Hysteria has been longest studied, and there is a feeling that more is known about it than about any other disorder—occasionally even that all its essentials are known. Is this true? It seems to me on the contrary that there is much that is obscure about the theory of hysteria. A few minutes with the literature, after the early work of Freud, reveals how unrevealing it is. It tells us little and gives the impression that the origin of the disorder is vague. Interestingly enough comprehensive works by eminent authors tend to omit in the index any reference to aetiology or theory. Has hysteria not been seriously discussed (in print) since the very beginning of the century? There is, however, one important exception to this neglect: Fairbairn (3), (6) has given the subject very serious thought.

One of the functions of metascience (methodology) is to try to find out where a problem lies. To enter upon this we shall have to ascertain what exactly the theory of hysteria is and to enquire into the metascientific (methodological) status of the components of the theory.

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