Historical background

Medicine has always recognized the importance of the patient's confiding relationship with the physician, as enshrined in the Hippocratic oath of ancient Greece. This non-specific psychological aspect of treatment is especially important in psychiatry. Through the years, more specific psychological approaches have been conceptualized, ranging from medieval notions of the 'casting out of demons' in mad people to the 'animal magnetism' of Mesmer in the nineteenth century.

It was only a little over 100 years ago, however, that a systematic theoretical base for psychological treatment was developed in Sigmund Freud's 'psychoanalysis'. Although now little used in practice, psychoanalysis has been paramount in establishing the importance of psychological matters with the general public, and in providing one of the most enduringly interesting models of the mind. The work of Freud and the post-Freudians is briefly described below.

Many of these ideas now look dated, seeming more like cultural movements than medical or scientific theories. Indeed, if one accepts the position that the definition of a scientific theory is that it is capable of being disproved by experiment, little of what is in the next section would be defined as science. However, many people continue to find these theories of great interest, and they have certainly been an important part of the development of psychiatry. The time has not yet arrived when it will be possible to have a proper training in psychiatry without at least an acquaintance with the terms.

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