Jean-Martin Charcot was a French researcher and one of the pioneers of neurology, The branch of medicine that studies disorders of the nervous system. However, outside the scope of this discipline, and particularly in the world of psychology, she is best known for his work on hysteria and hypnosis.
Charcot’s contributions would not only be fundamental for the development of neurology, but would also constitute a key piece in the scientific development of psychiatry and in the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis.
Who was Jean-Martin Charcot?
The neurologist and pathologist Jean-Martin Charcot was born in Paris in 1825. He studied with Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne, who made major contributions in the fields of neurology and electrophysiology. Charcot is often considered the father of neurology, but his work is largely due to Duchenne’s teachings.
For more than 30 years, Charcot worked as a doctor, researcher and professor at the École de la Salpêtrière, which at the time operated as a psychiatric center and housed around 5,000 patients. Sigmund Freud was one of the many students who learned from Charcot, Which had gained fame throughout Europe.
In addition to his career at La Salpêtrière, Charcot was professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Paris, where he was appointed director of neurology. He died in 1893, at the age of 67, of a heart attack and pulmonary edema.
Hysteria in the 19th century
Hysteria was the most prevalent psychological disorder of the 19th century. This concept was used to encompass a wide range of neurotic symptoms and went into decline with the consolidation of scientific psychology. DSM-IV is one of the categories of dissociative disorders and somatomorphic manifestations that were previously classified as hysteria.
Since the typical symptoms of hysteria, such as psychogenic seizures, they were largely due to the suggestion caused by the popularization of certain cases, the prevalence of these disorders is now very low. However, some somatomorphic disorders are still common, such as chronic pain and hypochondria.
For a long time, it was believed that hysteria could affect women only because it was attributed to changes in the uterus, but cases were also detected in men. In the 19th century hysteria was considered a physical illness of unknown origin, Whereas previously many experts believed that this was due to moral or voluntary deficiency.
Initially, Charcot thought that hysteria had hereditary biological causes: he accepted the hypothesis of “neurological degeneration”, very popular in his time. He later came to the conclusion that it was in fact due to a traumatic event that injured the brain in a specific way. This would be the origin of Freud’s theses on hysteria.
Healing with hypnosis
In Charcot’s time, inefficiency i the aggressiveness of conventional therapeutic methods they made them extremely questionable. In the case of hysteria, some of the usual “treatments” involved applying electric shocks, giving showers of cold water, inserting tubes into the rectum, and even removing the ovaries.
This context has favored the emergence and popularization of alternative therapies such as hypnosis, Which was developed from the bizarre methods of Franz Mesmer and consolidated with contributions from Charcot, James Braid and Pierre Janet, among others. The same thing happened with psychoanalysis, conceived by Freud because of its limitations as a hypnotist.
Charcot proposed that hypnosis was helpful in reproducing the symptoms of hysteria. At first he thought it might be helpful to treat this disorder as well, but his confidence in the method that helped popularize it waned over time, especially due to the sensationalism that arose around hypnosis. and which has moved away from the scientific community.
According to Charcot, the same susceptibility to hypnosis denoted neurological degeneration which in turn was the cause of the hysteria. He later distinguished between “great hysteria” and “great hypnosis”, which were related to hereditary alterations, from “little hysteria” and “little hypnosis”, due to the induction of a trance by suggestion.
Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault and Hippolyte Bernheim, From the Nancy school, Opposed to the point of view of Charcot and the other members of the Salpêtrière: for them hysteria and hypnosis were due exclusively to suggestion. Disputes between both schools damaged the reputation of hypnosis, which was already in question due to its acientificidad.
Contributions to neurology
Although Charcot is best known for his contributions to hysteria and hypnosis, the truth is that he has dedicated his life to neurology. He has made a vital contribution to scientific knowledge on Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and neuropathy in general.
Charcot described multiple sclerosis, Which he called “multiple sclerosis”. For this author, the main signs of the disease were nystagmus, intentional tremors and telegraphic speech; it is what is called today the “triad of Charcot”. He also noted that memory and mental speed are impaired in people with multiple sclerosis.
There are several neuropathies that are named after Charcot because he was the first to describe it or made important contributions in this regard. come out Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome and Charcot Neuropathic Joint Disease (Also called neuropathic arthropathy and diabetic foot), which affects the lower extremities.
In contrast, “Charcot-Wilbrand syndrome” is the term used to describe the loss of the ability to dream. This disorder occurs as a result of localized lesions in the occipital lobe that impair facial recognition and image recall.