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Hulbeck, C.R. (1964). The Existential Mood in American Psychiatry. Am. J. Psychoanal., 24(1):82-88.

(1964). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 24(1):82-88

The Existential Mood in American Psychiatry

Charles R. Hulbeck, M.D.

I have Called this paper the existential mood in American psychiatry because there already has been an existential mood in European psychiatry for a considerable time, nearly a generation. In order to understand what is going on in the United States one has to familiarize oneself with present European psychiatry, and in order to understand European psychiatry one has to start with the causes and facts that turned European psychiatry away from Freudian psychoanalysis.

I am neither a philosopher nor a historian but I feel we have to assume that many elements merged to bring about the change which is experienced in Europe today and now here in America. As I understand the situation a few of the causes are: 1) the general trend in European philosophy towards turning away from pragmatic thinking; 2) the revolutionary developments in living expressed in technology and commercialism, caused by the two major wars; 3) the influence of major personalities—Kierkegaard, the German Romantics (especially Schelling, and Frederic Nietzsche who fought the Hegelian ideological form of thinking), Heidegger, Jaspers, Sartre and others, and last but not least, Edmund Husserl.

None of these thinkers clearly posed the crucial questions: What is the human situation? What is man and his existence? What are his special reactions to his environment, psychologically and sociologically? But how can we define and clearly express the human situation? What are the essential features characterizing the human situation? What is definable, for our purposes, in what Nietzsche called “Nihilism”? Whether we like it or not, we have to choose certain aspects of Nihilism for an understanding of the existential mood in modern thinking and consequently in modern psychiatry in Europe and America.

I wish to start with the phenomenon of human atomization which is tantamount to human isolation or simply to human loneliness. Human loneliness seriously questions the claims of technological development that communication between men has been made easier and faster.

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