Almanac: November

Precursors of psychoanalysis: Jean-Martin Charcot

Jean-Martin Charcot was born in Paris on November 29, 1825.  He received his MD at the University of Paris in 1853. In 1860 he became a professor at his alma mater.  Two years later, he began to work at Salpêtrière Hospital as well. In 1882, he opened a neurological clinic at Salpêtrière Hospital.  It, and he, became known throughout Europe, and students came from everywhere to study the new field.  Among them were Alfred Binet and a young Sigmund Freud.

Charcot is well known in medical circles for his studies of the neurology of motor disorders, resulting diseases, aneurysms, and localization of brain functions.  He is considered the father of modern neurology as well as the person who first diagnosed of Multiple Sclerosis.

In psychology, he is best known for his use of hypnosis to successfully treating women suffering from the psychological disorder then known as hysteria.  Now called conversion disorder, hysteria involved a loss of some physiological function such as vision, speech, tactile sensations, movement, etc., that was nonetheless not based in actual neurological damage.

Charcot believed that hysteria was due to a congenitally weak nervous system, combined with the effects of some traumatic experience.  Hypnotizing these patients brought on a state similar to hysteria itself.  He found that, in some cases, the symptoms would actually lessen after hypnosis - although he was only interested in studying hysteria, not in curing it!  Others would later use hypnosis as a part of curing the problem.

Charcot died in Morvan, France, on August 16, 1893.