We had agreed beforehand that for a first survey we might separate the mental from the bodily symptoms and group the mental ones with reference to the predominance of ideational, emotional, and volitional factors. We abstain from everything which is exceptional or even unusual, and confine ourselves to the routine observations with which the psychotherapist comes in contact every day and the simplest country physician surely every week.
Thus I turn from systematic objectivity to my unsystematic reminiscences of many years. Of course, they abound with eccentric abnormities and startling phenomena. As I have devoted myself to psychotherapeutics, always and only from scientific interest, as a part of my laboratory studies and therefore have refused to spend any time on cases which offered no special psychological interest to me, the striking and sensational cases have prevailed in my practice even to an unusual degree. Yet they are unessential for our purposes here, the more as their interest lies mostly in the complex structure of the mental state while the curative features are in the background. Our purpose of demonstrating practical cases as they occur in every village, and as they ought to be understood and treated by every doctor, thus rules out just those experiences which would be prominent in a theoretical study of abnormal psychology. We want to select only simple commonplace cases. Only those who have not learned to see are unaware that such cases are everywhere about them.
As a matter of course, I also leave out everything which refers to insanity, that is, every mental disturbance which lies essentially outside of the domain of psychotherapy. The helpful influence which psychical factors can exert in the asylums for the insane is, as we emphasized, entirely secondary. The psychotherapeutic methods in the narrower sense of the word are in the present state of our knowledge ineffective in the insane asylum. I should also be unable to speak of laboratory experience with insanity, as I insist on sanatorium treatment in every such case. The question of how to differentiate the diagnosis of insanity from that of the other mental abnormities is not our question at this moment. I select the few illustrations which seem to me desirable for the purpose of making more concrete our abstract discussion of methods, essentially from the class of neurasthenics, psychasthenics, hysterics, and so on.
In all these reports, I shall confine the account to the few points which are to illustrate the psychical factors, thus abstaining entirely from the further details which any medical history of the cases would demand and from all results of further examination and other particulars. As a matter of course, I exclude the possibility of identifying the patient. I may start with a typical case of obsessing ideas of simplest character and with simple routine treatment illustrating the emphasis on antagonistic ideas.
A man of mature age, well educated, well-built and in every respect in good health, without nervous history and without other nervous symptoms, suffered vehemently by the persistent recurrence of a visual image which entirely absorbed his attention. He knew exactly the development of his trouble. A woman acquaintance of his had committed suicide by poisoning herself. He knew her slightly and the emotion of personal loss played hardly any rôle in the case. But he had met her at a gay dinner a short time before her death. The news of the suicide came to him when he was overtired from work. The idea of the contrast between seeing his friend partaking of the dinner and imagining her drinking the poison gave him a strong shock. There was hardly any grief mixed in. He remembers that he shivered at the thought of the contrast, and in that moment the visual image of the woman raising a glass of poison to her mouth flashed into his mind and thus became almost a part of the shock. From that time on, the memory image of this scene returned more and more frequently. At first it associated itself with any chance mentioning of death or suicide and to a very slight degree with the idea of a meal. More and more any element of a meal and of social life, the word soup or meat, the word gown or dance, brought up at once the picture of the woman, which had in the meantime lost every element of personal relation. Any sad thought of her ending had faded away. It remained merely a troublesome impression. The man fought against it by trying to suppress the idea but the more he fought against it, the more insistently it rushed forward through new and ever new association paths. Any advertisement in the newspaper referring to food, anything in a shop window referring to ladies’ dresses, any household utensils related to a meal, and especially the meals themselves, forced the visual image into the centre and captured the attention to such a degree that a confusing distraction from the real surroundings resulted.
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