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Shell-shock and psychological medicine in First World War Britain

Loughran, Tracey Louise ORCID: 2009. Shell-shock and psychological medicine in First World War Britain. Social History of Medicine 22 (1) , pp. 79-95. 10.1093/shm/hkn093

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Historians have viewed the experience of shell-shock in First World War Britain as a crucial episode in the development of ‘modern’ psychological medicine, arguing doctors initially believed shell-shock was caused by the physical effects of shell explosions, and only gradually realised these were psychological disorders, treatable by psychotherapy. This article argues that conceptual frameworks of pre-war medicine provided models of mind-body relations which allowed doctors to recognise the emotional origins of shell-shock on the outbreak of war. Distinct schools of ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’ thought only emerged in 1916; physical theories persisted beyond 1918; and the war had an uneven effect on engagement with psychodynamic theories. Adoption of psychological vocabulary outstripped understanding, and widespread dissemination also resulted in hostility. Shell-shock marked an important moment in the emergence of the distinct disciplines of psychology and psychiatry in Britain, but this did not involve a radical departure from pre-war concepts of mental health.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Uncontrolled Keywords: First World War; shell-shock; psychology; psychoanalysis; psychiatry
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISSN: 0951-631X
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2022 13:23

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