Charcot and les névroses traumatiques: Scientific and historical reflections

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Between 1878 and 1893, Jean-Martin Charcot published over twenty detailed case histories dealing with what he termed ‘traumatic hysteria’ and what today would be labelled the psychoneurology of trauma. Charcot's cases record a highly diverse clinique tableau of symptoms. Etiologically, Charcot posited a dual model of a hereditary diathese, or constitutional predilection to nervous degeneration, and an environmental agent provocateur. Increasingly during the 1880s, he emphasized the role of ‘psychical shock’. These writings of Charcot also exhibit many of the same, superb clinical qualities that distinguish his work on other medical topics. Charcot isolated several hystero-traumatic formations and provided outstanding clinical depictions of subgenres of the disorder, most notably brachial monoplegias. His clinical demonstrations of the differential diagnosis of organic and functional post-traumatic pathologies represent Charcot the virtuoso neurologist at his finest. Taken together, these writings offer a penetrating exploration of the complex and elaborate functional sequelae of minor bodily injury and the phenomenon of traumatic psychogenic somatic symptom-formation. The revival today of medical interest in psycho-traumatic pathology, including the traumatic origins of certain dissociative states, provides an important context for the renewed appreciation of Charcot's work in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-119
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the History of the Neurosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Charcot
  • hysteria
  • neurosis
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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