The History of Hysteria: Sexism in Diagnosis

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The female body has long been misunderstood. Women are often misdiagnosed by doctors, either due to the belief that they are over-dramatizing symptoms or because of a lack of adequate research on illnesses predominantly faced by women. As frustrating as this is, it’s no new phenomenon.

Dating back to 1900 BC Egypt, an ancient medical document known as the Eber Papyrus contained references to hysterical disorders thought to be caused by abnormal movements of the uterus. In the 5th Century BC, Hippocrates was the first to coin the term “hysteria” and agreed with his predecessors that this so-called condition — attributable only to women — was due to a “wandering womb,” believed to be caused by sexual inactivity. Recommended cures were, naturally, that women should increase sexual activity within the bounds of marriage. This diagnosis was not founded in science or medical research (though that may seem obvious now), but in gender bias against women and their experience of emotions and the perceived lack of sexual interest.

As currently defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hysteria is, “behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess.” An alternate, psychiatric definition is, “a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychogenic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions.” While the definition of hysteria might seem broad, it has also altered over time. While medicine and mental health have changed a great deal over the centuries, hysteria is a historically gendered diagnosis that often served as a catch-all when doctors couldn’t identify another illness. It was extremely common to find women labelled as “hysterical” defined more by their stature as women than by their symptoms. Continue reading The History of Hysteria: Sexism in Diagnosis

The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

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In 1965, TIME magazine published an article titled “Homosexuals Can Be Cured.” The article focused on the “triumphant” results of group therapy work led by psychiatrist Samuel Hadden, who was also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School at the time. Hadden had been leading long-term (four to eight year) therapy sessions for men who identified as homosexual in the hopes of “curing” them of their sexual “perversions.”

TIME’s article celebrated Hadden’s ability to help men work through their “symptoms” of “illness”—whether that was wearing inappropriately feminine clothing or being sexually interested in men instead of women. Hadden was only one of many esteemed psychiatrists and psychologists to consider — and treat — homosexuality as a sickness during the 1960s. In fact, homosexuality was not removed from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” [DSM] until 1973.

The pathologizing of homosexuality was not, however, contextually specific to 20th century America. Many of the earliest writings condemning homosexual acts as “unnatural” caught on in 12th century Europe, when religious leaders like Saint Thomas Aquinas denounced homosexuality as a sin in their early writings. Popular disdain against homosexuality, began in the realm of religion, but it quickly moved into the legal arena in centuries to come. Continue reading The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

Dear Therapist: How Do I Change People’s Perception of Me?

Now that it’s been a while since I started therapy, I feel myself changing for the better, but I find that people’s perception of me remains the same. How do I help them see me in a different light?

– by Anonymous Talkspace User

From what I understand, the point of therapy is to come into my own, discover who I am, and figure out a way to change the less-than-awesome parts of my personality. It’s a tedious process that requires a lot of work, but I can happily report that it’s starting to pay off. The credit, however, is far from being all mine. I was paired with a very intelligent and thought provoking therapist, whom I have formed a great relationship with. Had I been paired with someone different, who knows what I’d be writing now. Continue reading Dear Therapist: How Do I Change People’s Perception of Me?