Psychotherapy in society

Historical reflections

Authored by: Sonu Shamdasani

The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  April  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138781603
eBook ISBN: 9781315202211
Adobe ISBN: 9781351784399


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What is psychotherapy? Any historical inquiry into the subject must begin by posing this question. One of the earliest definitions from 1892 by the Dutch psychiatrist Frederick van Eeden (1869–1932), ran as follows: ‘I call psychotherapy all curative methods which use psychic agents to combat illness through the intervention of psychic functions.’ 1 This was a wide, all-embracing definition, simply setting aside the body. Half a century later, Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) proposed the following: ‘Psychotherapy is the name given to all those methods of treatment that affect both psyche and body by measures which proceed via the psyche. The co-operation of the patient is always required.’ 2 Little had changed. In 1973, Thomas Szasz (1920–2012) attempted to gather together the plethora of definitions into one:

We have come to accept as psychotherapy all conceivable situations in which the soul, spirit, mind, or personality of an individual who claims to be a healer is employed to bring about some sort of change called ‘therapeutic’ in the soul, spirit, mind or personality of another individual, called the ‘patient’. 3

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