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Beres, D. (1967). Hysteria. The History of a Disease: By Ilza Veith. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965. 301 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 36:284-287.

(1967). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36:284-287

Hysteria. The History of a Disease: By Ilza Veith. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965. 301 pp.

Review by:
David Beres

The author of this book gives us both more and less than the title implies. She gives us more in her informative details about attitudes and theories concerning mental illness (not of hysteria alone) from antiquity to the present; but she gives us less because we are offered only history of the theories about hysteria, not of the disease itself.

A historical survey of a medical theme may compare the clinical descriptions of the disease being studied; but can we from the clinical descriptions of Hippocrates, Galen, Sydenham, Pinel, or even contemporary observers, be sure that the patients they describe have similar psychodynamic conflicts? The concept of a disease entity depends to a great extent on the theoretical orientation of the observer and this has varied enormously in regard to hysteria, as Dr. Veith makes clear. What has been called hysteria in past eras is surely not in all cases what is today so diagnosed.

Have the manifestations of hysteria varied over the centuries? The answer to this important question would indicate to us the influence on personality of social and economic factors in different historical periods. Psychoanalysts must someday study the historical question how men have dealt with their basic conflicts. The difficulties of such a study are obvious. If what we seek is the psychodynamic basis of the phenomena so vividly described in the writings of the past, we shall have to accept the limitations that accompany any attempt to reconstruct the past.

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