British Psychological Society and UCL Centre for the History of Psychological Disiciplines Seminar

Monday 6th October
Professor Roland Littlewood (UCL Anthropology and Department of Mental Health Sciences)

The Advent of the Adversary: Negative Power in Certain Religio-Therapeutic Systems?

New ‘religio-therapeutic systems’ commonly start with a relatively straightforward ethical injunction or healing faculty. With time, recognised failures, together with internal or external criticisms, appear, for which the action of a new countervailing power or principle, formerly opposed to the initial one, provides the explanation. The two together a new dynamic of power and counter-power. The instances considered here are Christian Science, Reichian energetics, Freudian psychoanalysis and- arguably- their source in Christianity. Some speculations on this complementary opposition are offered.

Roland Littlewood is trained as a psychiatrist and social anthropologist, who has worked extensively on transcultural psychiatry. He is author of Pathologies of the West: An Anthropology of Mental Illness in Europe and America (2002), The Butterfly and the Serpent: Essays in Psychiatry, Race and Religion (1998), and Pathology and Identity: The Work of Mother Earth in Trinidad (2006).

Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.

Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.

BPS/UCL Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar

Monday 22nd September, 6pmLaing in tree 2

 Dr. Allan Beveridge (Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline)

 Portrait of the psychiatrist as a young man. The early writing and work of RD Laing, 1927-1960.

For a period in the 1960s, Ronald Laing was the most famous psychiatrist in the world. His books sold in millions and were translated into many languages. In his most celebrated work, The Divided Self, published in 1960, he argued that madness was understandable. Laing’s reputation subsequently went into serious decline, but in recent years there has been renewed interest in him and a number of biographies and books have been published. This interest has been fuelled by a disenchantment with the claims of the neurosciences and an unease about biotechnology. Laing’s existential approach of treating the patient as a person rather than a malfunctioning mechanism has new-found appeal.

 This paper will look at Laing’s early career up to the publication of his first book in 1960. It will begin by looking at the major influences on his work: psychiatric theory; existential analysis; religion; and the Arts. It will then examine Laing’s early clinical career, firstly in the British Army, followed by his time as a junior doctor at Gartnavel Royal Hospital and the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, before his subsequent move to the Tavistock Clinic in London.

 Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

  Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.

 Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.


21st July BPS/UCL History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar

Professor Vincent Barras (University of Lausanne)
‘Plays between Reason, Language and Gods: The Case of Glossolalia 19-20th Centuries’

Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, plays a surprisingly important role in discussions between theologians, psychologists, and psychiatrists at the turn of the 20th century on the relationships between religious psychology, mental automatisms, subliminal processes and inner language and in the formation of modern psychology itself. Its role in the formation of modern psychology will be reconstructed, with particular emphasis on the debates around the Swiss theologian Emile Lombard’s masterpiece of 1910, “Concerning glossolalia in the early Christians and similar phenomena.”

Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.

Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.

UCL and British Psychological Society History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series, 30th June 2014

Dr. Sarah Chaney (UCL)
‘A Perversion of Self-Feeling’: The Emergence of Self-Harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry
This paper explores the emergence of self-harm as a specific category of abnormal individual behaviour in the second half of the nineteenth century, when ‘self-mutilation’ was defined within asylum psychiatry. I will briefly explain the background of the asylum system and psychiatric profession in Western Europe and the USA in this period, and describe how ‘self-mutilation’ emerged from the interest clinicians had in classifying and defining ‘insane’ behaviour. In particular, this was associated with the widespread publicity given to the increasing decision to regard suicidal acts as evidence of mental illness. While it is often assumed today that Victorian writers made no distinction between suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury, I argue that this was not the case. Psychiatrists in the nineteenth century frequently claimed that self-mutilation was not carried out for suicidal reasons, although they differed in their method of applying alternative meaning to such acts.

Finally, I will explore why it was that this distinction was made in this particular period, and what led psychiatrists to draw parallels between different kinds of self-inflicted injury to create a universal category. The concept of self-harm today is often used to refer to an act of injury; this application, I argue, emerged from late nineteenth-century asylum psychiatry. While people had certainly harmed themselves in a variety of ways prior to this period, the late nineteenth century was the first time these diverse acts – from skin-picking to amputation – became regarded as equivalent behaviours. Combining them under the umbrella term ‘self-mutilation’ prompted the idea that some form of universal meaning might also be discoverable. Self-harm became viewed as an act that had meaning beyond the physical nature of any wounds inflicted or the immediate sensations caused; an act that revealed something of the character of an individual; and, in addition, an act that might help to explain the relationship between individual and society.
Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)
Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.
Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.

UCL and British Psychological Society History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

Monday 16th June
Dr. Graham Richards (UCL)
Some Psychological Facets of Creationism
This presentation explores the psychological aspects of the debates around Creationism. It explores the  psychological character of the ‘Argument from Design’ and how this has changed over time from Ray, via Paley to current Intelligent Design theorists, the underlying motivations of Creationists, and the relevance to these debates of Paul Tillich’s discussion of ‘types of anxiety,’ and the history of ‘literal’ biblical fundamentalism. It signposts how psychology has the potential to illuminate the Creationism/Intelligent Design issue in ways which might break what is currently a log-jam of ritualised argument and counter-argument.
Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)
Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.
Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.

Psychedelics and Psychotherapy: A historical workshop (26 July 2014)

While cultural histories of  psychedelics have become a popular industry, there has been comparatively little work done on the ways in which mind altering substances, such as LSD or psilocybin, have been used by psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and psychologists during the second half of the 20th century. The aim of the workshop is to start a discussion of the various ways in which such compounds have been used within the psy disciplines, as a form of therapy, as tools for psychological exploration, or as theoretical catalysts for various models of the mind.

To register, go to:



UCL/British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

Monday 24th March
Dr. Mike Jay
Over the Edge: William Sargant and the Battle for the Mind
In his bestselling book of 1957, Battle for the Mind, the psychiatrist William Sargant revealed to the public the secret techniques that had been used to manipulate humanity, in his words, ‘from the Stone Age to Hitler’. His ideas were adopted by public intellectuals including Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley and Bertrand Russell.
Sargant’s theory was perhaps the most potent manifestation of postwar psychiatry in British popular culture, both drawing on and contributing to its aura of power and expertise. He presented a stark image of a modern world that had outgrown religious consolation but was not yet rational enough to resist the forms of control that were replacing it.
Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)
Time: 6pm to 7.30 pm.
Location:  Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.
From the Torrington Place entrance to UCL, enter the campus on Malet Place. After fifty metres, you will find Foser court on the right hand side. Turn right under the underpass, and enter via the second door on the right. The common room is straight ahead.