Charcot and Freud’s Contributions to Study of Hysteria

Although Charcot and Freud had very different ideas about hysteria, they both fit into the emerging medical framework in the nineteenth century. Charcot created a medical and biological definition of hysteria that was much different than previous definitions. He searched for lesions in the brains and spinal cords of his patients and observed their actions for clues. In doing so, Charcot implied that the doctor understood more about the patient than the patient did about herself. Freud took this one step further with his development of psychoanalysis. His patients were unable to discern the causes of their hysteria without his help. Both men, therefore, were establishing themselves as doctors who had a special knowledge of the self.

This idea spread across the medical disciplines during the nineteenth century. Humans needed medical professionals to help them understand their unconscious behaviors. Doctors searched for biological explanations of criminality and poverty as well as madness. Charcot and Freud, therefore, fit into a larger movement in the nineteenth century that attempted to ground illnesses and ideas in science and biology. Their work also set the precedent for more research into the medical causes of psychiatric disorders. Overall, although Charcot and Freud differed in their understanding and treatment of hysteria, they demonstrate a larger movement toward science in the nineteenth century.

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