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Introduction of the term "trauma" in psychiatry


In 1889 Hermann Oppenheim transposed the surgical term "trauma" into psychology and psychiatry under the term of «traumatic neuroses». Related essays like Erichsen's Bernheim's, Strümpell's, Charcot's, Janet's, Kraft - Ebing's, Moebius's, Prince's, Breuer's and Freud's succeeded in arousing widespread interest in trauma.

Materials and methods

This study reviews the psychiatric literature in nineteen century when the term "trauma" was introduced in psychiatry. For methodological reasons the papers reviewed were divided into six categories: a) referring to shock and to "shell-shock", b) connecting memory with emotions like fear or terror, c) concerning hypnoses and memory disturbances, d) reviews of the hysterical phenomena, e) papers about traumatic paralysis and multiple personalities, and f) clinical studies where traumatic cures including psychoanalysis were described.


Some clinical syndromes like the railway spine, the hysterical paralysis in man and the multiple personality were identified as traumatic syndromes. However the genealogy of trauma is similar to that of hysteria. There are many pairs (suggestion-hypnosis, functional neuroses-ideation, emotions-memory, fantasy-instincts, conscious-unconscious, mnemic symbol-hysterical repetition compulsion, abreaction-fixation, etc) that identified the existence of traumatic power and established the economic model of affect-trauma.


In the first dynamic psychiatry, trauma considered as the psychic process when the intrapsychic balance become unstable due to an affect linked to the traumatic memory.


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Tihs paper is the introduction of the author's doctora thesis: "The meaning of trauma in the beginning of psychoanalysis", Democritus University of Thrace, 2008.

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Correspondence to Sofia Efstratiou.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Efstratiou, S. Introduction of the term "trauma" in psychiatry. Ann Gen Psychiatry 9, S235 (2010).

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  • Clinical Study
  • Economic Model
  • Clinical Syndrome
  • Widespread Interest
  • Traumatic Memory