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

Monday 13 July  2015


Professor Robert Segal (University of Aberdeen)


The Course of Modern Psychoanalyzing About Myth


This talk will trace the history of psychoanalysing about myth through the major figures:  Freud, Rank, Roheim, Arlow, Bettelheim, Jung. and Campbell.  Myth has never been just an unconscious expression of the Oedipus complex and over the years has become much more.

Robert Segal is the author of The Poimandres as Myth: Scholarly Theory and Gnostic Meaning, Religion and the Social Sciences: Essays on the ConfrontationJoseph Campbell: An Introduction. Explaining and Interpreting Religion, Theorizing about Myth and Myth: A Very Short Introduction, among other works.

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.


Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy-Professions



The Hidden Persuaders project group  at Birkbeck, University of London will be holding a two-day conference on 3-4th July on the Psy-professions in cinema. To register, see https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brainwash-history-cinema-and-the-psy-professions-tickets-16380168525

The history of cinema, like the history of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychotherapy, percolates with Western suspicions that our minds are susceptible to covert, even unconscious manipulation. Cinema and psychoanalysis—two essential exponents of subjectivity in the twentieth century—have been celebrated as royal roads to the unconscious, catalysts for our dreams, and means of self-discovery and human emancipation. But cinema and psychotherapy, Freudian or otherwise, have also been castigated for their special capacity to tap the unconscious, and as tools for mind control, even as they have depicted and shaped understanding of what it means to have or to manipulate a mind. 

 Early cinema had frequently explored the hypnotic processes it was accused of inducing. But the intersecting fears of mind control at the movies and in the consulting room seemingly entered a new stage of complexity with the Cold War. New theoretical and visual languages of ‘brainwashing’ emerged, and the ideas of Pavlov and of Freud were often placed side by side. In the decades after 1950 (the year in which the word ‘brainwashing’ was coined), film further explored subliminal interference. Roles for ‘psy’ experts working for shadowy organisations were to feature, and the dangers of psychological experiment returned again and again. 

 Visions of ‘conditioning’ and ‘programming’ resonated on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Work such as Shivers (1981) by the Polish filmmaker Marczewski explored the communist indoctrination of young people. In the West, films such as The Mind Benders (1963), The Ipcress File (1965), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Parallax View (1974) played upon conjoined political and psychological terrors of brainwashing.  Most famous, ironic, and perhaps most imitated of all works in this tradition was The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Meanwhile, many specialist commentators in the human sciences explored the vulnerability of the ‘captive mind’, considered the psychic effects of ‘totalitarianism’, the nature of induced desires and manufactured anxieties, advertising, not to mention extreme sensory experiences (and deprivation) in shaping behaviour and thought. The limits of an individual—or a group’s—capacity to remember, to will, to know, and to organize were probed; and terms such as ‘regression’ and ‘automatism’ gained a substantial new purchase.

 In this workshop we ask whether the Cold War obsession with brainwashing was a break with past narratives and anxieties over mental manipulation and suggestion. We consider how far cinema, television and video have been caught up in this history of hidden or coercive persuasion, and how far they have changed the terms of debate. What forms of human experimentation inspired interest in brainwashing, and vice versa?  And how and why did depictions of automatism on screen so often connect to fears of the ‘psy’ professions?

 In addressing these questions we revisit some iconic and obscure brainwashing sagas of the past. By re-examining Cold War films and some of their precursors, we invite discussion of the representation of coercively altered states of consciousness—the dangerous spell that film and ‘the talking cure’ have been said to exert. We ask: how have ‘suggestion’, ‘hypnosis’, ‘automatism’ and ‘brainwashing’ featured in these stories? What plot lines and visual aesthetics has ‘brainwashing’ inspired? Why did the clinical expert feature so prominently in such films? How and why have fears of brainwashing figured in the critique of the therapeutic encounter? What should we make of the role of hypnosis in the early warnings about the dangers of cinema (and its darkened rooms)?How might we map and historicise such fears and fantasies? Do the same fears recur, the same plots unfold, or do hypnosis and brainwashing play out differently, in Europe and the US, East and West, pre-war and post-war? 

For more information about the The Hidden Persuaders project, led by Daniel Pick at Birkbeck, University of London and funded by the Wellcome Trust, see their website: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/hiddenpersuaders/


Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping The Psychoanalytic Movement

psychoanalytic filiations 18 July

Workshop 2-6pm 18 July 2015

How does one write the history of the psychoanalytic movement? This event marks the publication of Ernst Falzeder’s book, ‘Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement’, with a series of discussions and debates on this theme.

Written over a span of nearly a quarter century, the “red thread” running through the book is its focus on the network of psychoanalytic “filiations” (who analysed whom), and how crucial concepts of depth psychology were developed before the background of those intense relationships: for example, Freud’s technical recommendations, the therapeutic use of countertransference and the view of the psychoanalytic situation as a social, interactive process, the introduction of the anal phase, the birth of the object-relations-model as opposed to the drive-model in psychoanalysis, or the psychotherapeutic treatment of psychoses. Several chapters deal with key figures in that history, such as Sándor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Eugen Bleuler, Otto Rank, and C. G. Jung, their respective relationships to each other and to Freud, and the consequences that their collaboration, as well as conflicts, with him had for the further development of psychoanalysis up to the present day. Other chapters give an overview on the publications of Freud’s texts and on unpublished documents (the “unknown Freud”), the editorial policy of the publications of Freud’s letters.


Dr. Ernst Falzeder (UCL)

Dr. Shaul Bar-Heim (Birkbeck College)

Arthur Eaton (UCL)

Prof. Brett Kahr (Roehampton University)

Dr. Matt ffytche (University of Essex)

Dr. Sarah Marks (University of Cambridge)

Dee McQuillan (UCL)

Dr. Richard Skues (London Metropolitan University)

Chair: Prof. Sonu Shamdasani (UCL).

Cost: £20

UCL staff and students: free.

Register at:


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

Tuesday 16th June 2015 

Professor Mark Micale (University of Illinois)


Historical trauma studies continue to burgeon, but the work in this flourishing field of scholarship is dervied from a small number of purely Euro-American catastrophic events, which serve as historical and psychological paradigms. Micale, who contributed to earlier debates in the field with his edited collection Traumatic Pasts: History, Psychiatry, and Trauma in the Modern Age, 1870-1930, argues that scholars need now to look beyond the West toward a new, more genuinely global perspective on the history of trauma. He focuses in particular on new research being done about Asia. 



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.


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

Monday 20 April  2015


Dr. Eric Engstrom  (Humboldt University of Berlin)


Pastoral Psychiatry and Irrenseelsorge: Religious Aspects of the Anti-Psychiatry Debates in Imperial Germany


Historians of psychiatry have often enough interpreted the relationship between psychiatry and religion within narrative frameworks that focus on diagnoses and treatments (religious madness, exorcism) or that emphasize broader historical processes such as secularization, medicalization, and biologization. While there is considerable merit to such frameworks, recent critiques of the secularization paradigm have suggested a larger place for religion and spirituality in late 19th century urban culture than is often assumed. The work of the American historian Edward R. Dickinson in particular has reminded us of the enduring influence and inertia of conservative Christian organizations in shaping moral discourse and social policy in the Kaiserreich. My paper examines more closely the interdisciplinary topography between psychiatric and religious professionals, mapping out some of the common terrain on which they cooperated and/or disagreed with one another. In particular, I will examine debates about the place of religion in 19th century asylum culture and the role of the so-called ‘Irrenseelsorger’. Against this backdrop and drawing especially on examples from Berlin, I will then explore efforts by religious organizations to expand their role in psychiatric after-/extramural care and show how those efforts contributed decisively to a nascent ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement in the years leading up to World War One.



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. 

Albert Maysles “Psychiatry in Russia” (1955)

American documentary film-maker Albert Maysles died this week, after a long and auspicious career. Although perhaps best known for his films of the counterculture era made with his brother David – and in particular Gimme Shelter (1970) which followed the Rolling Stones during their US concerts in the late ’60s – Maysles first documentary from 1955 was made after a visit to Soviet ‘mental hospitals’ after travelling across Russian and Ukraine by motorcycle. It remains one of the few films to document clinical practice and training in Soviet psychiatry of the era, including footage of Pavlovian ‘electro-sleep therapy’.

The New York Times published Maysles obituary on 6th March.

History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar

Dr. Beverley Butler (UCL)

‘From Heritage Syndromes to Refugee Syndromes’

Can certain heritage forms – whether imagined as historical or sacred and/or as otherwise salient sites – exert efficacies capable of transformative encounter? Can such loci affect cure and healing and/or turn otherwise ‘normal’ people ‘mad’? Phrased differently again – can heritage be rendered redemptive and/or pathological – therapeutic or traumatising?

My paper fore-fronts the phenomenon of the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ – the term used to describe the ‘episodes’ experienced by some visitors to Jerusalem who overwhelmed by their encounter with this iconic place undergo radical transformation. Affecting visitors in varying degrees of intensity, some (often with little previous religious conviction) come to see themselves as a specially ordained prophetic, messianic messenger who, after following ritual preparation often identify with a key religious figure (typically as featured in the Abrahamic religions) and feel compelled to deliver a redemptive message by which the world will undergo transformation and cure through the articulation of a vision of a ‘just’ future. The Jerusalem Syndrome has been regarded by some as both a sudden and an extreme form of religious expression and as synonymous with intense experiences of ‘wellbeing’ however it has featured in the pages of the British Psychiatric Journal as a serious psychiatric concern and designated as a ‘pathological illness’ synonymous with harmful experiences of ‘psychotic decompensation’ and ‘depersonalisation’. I use the ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ and its subsequent critiques as a means to raise questions about the broader articulation of ‘heritage syndromes’ in which wellbeing/ illbeing, cure/ harm, suffering and happiness exist in close proximity. I use ethnographic research including work undertaken with Palestinian refugees in Jordan to explore how such groups are encountering this complex and often potentially harmful act of engaging with heritage as a resource by which to re-construct self and world, to recover repertoires of resilience, cosmologies of care and coping strategies synonymous with attempts to define, control and sustain future wellbeing and secure justice.


Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room, Foster Court (ground floor), Malet Place
Malet Place
WC1E London
United Kingdom

Monday, 2 March 2015 from 18:00 to 19:30 (GMT)