Psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and politics during the First World War

José Brunner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This article compares the therapeutic power used by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts serving in the German and Austro‐Hungarian armies during World War I, and the ways in which their therapeutic techniques were related to governmental and military authority. When treating “shell shocked” soldiers, army psychiatrists were guided by nationalist commitment rather than concern for their patients. Whatever theoretical approach they took, they defined their therapeutic task as administrative intervention aimed to increase the docility of soldiers to the state and its military purposes. But violent means of coercion, designed to force neurotic soldiers back into duty, remained inefficient. Drawing from an alternative body of knowledge, army physicians influenced by Freud's writings, or trained in psychoanalysis, applied cathartic methods to treat the Central Powers' soldiers. Their approach was not only more humane, but also proved to be therapeutically more efficient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-365
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1991


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