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Historical Neurology
July 19, 2010

The “torpillage” neurologists of World War I
Electric therapy to send hysterics back to the front

July 20, 2010 issue
75 (3) 279-283

Abstract

The French neurologists and psychiatrists who were mobilized during the Great War were confronted with numerous soldiers with war neuroses, often with novel clinical manifestations such as camptocormia. They addressed hysteria and pithiatism according to concepts that had been formed before the war, and many doctors considered these soldiers to be malingerers. As a result, the use of aggressive therapies to enable their prompt return to the battlefront was advocated. In 1915–1916, Clovis Vincent (1879–1947) developed a method called torpillage, a “persuasive” form of psychotherapy using faradic and galvanic electric currents, to treat soldiers with “intractable” neuroses. However, since the treatment was painful, soldiers began to refuse it and, following a publicized trial, the method was discontinued. Given the influx of soldiers with seemingly incurable neuroses, Gustave Roussy (1874–1948) made an attempt in 1917 to develop a new method of psychoelectric treatment. In January 1918, he too came up against soldiers refusing electric treatment. Following a new trial and an unfavorable press campaign, the psycho-faradic method gradually died out. These extreme medical practices developed to treat psychological trauma during the First World War subsequently led to the delineation of posttraumatic stress disorder in more recent wars.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published In

Neurology®
Volume 75Number 3July 20, 2010
Pages: 279-283
PubMed: 20644155

Publication History

Published online: July 19, 2010
Published in print: July 20, 2010

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Authors

Affiliations & Disclosures

Laurent Tatu, MD
From the Departments of Neuromuscular Diseases and Anatomy (L.T.) and Neurology (T.M.), CHU Jean-Minjoz, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France; Center for Brain and Nervous System Disorders (J.B.), Genolier Swiss Medical Network, and Department of Neurology and Neurorehabilitation Clinique Valmont, Glion, Switzerland; and Department of Forensic Medicine (J.-L.C.), CHU Saint-Jacques, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France.
Julien Bogousslavsky, MD
From the Departments of Neuromuscular Diseases and Anatomy (L.T.) and Neurology (T.M.), CHU Jean-Minjoz, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France; Center for Brain and Nervous System Disorders (J.B.), Genolier Swiss Medical Network, and Department of Neurology and Neurorehabilitation Clinique Valmont, Glion, Switzerland; and Department of Forensic Medicine (J.-L.C.), CHU Saint-Jacques, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France.
Thierry Moulin, MD
From the Departments of Neuromuscular Diseases and Anatomy (L.T.) and Neurology (T.M.), CHU Jean-Minjoz, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France; Center for Brain and Nervous System Disorders (J.B.), Genolier Swiss Medical Network, and Department of Neurology and Neurorehabilitation Clinique Valmont, Glion, Switzerland; and Department of Forensic Medicine (J.-L.C.), CHU Saint-Jacques, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France.
Jean-Luc Chopard, MD
From the Departments of Neuromuscular Diseases and Anatomy (L.T.) and Neurology (T.M.), CHU Jean-Minjoz, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France; Center for Brain and Nervous System Disorders (J.B.), Genolier Swiss Medical Network, and Department of Neurology and Neurorehabilitation Clinique Valmont, Glion, Switzerland; and Department of Forensic Medicine (J.-L.C.), CHU Saint-Jacques, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France.

Notes

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Professor Laurent Tatu, Department of Neuromuscular Diseases, CHU Jean-Minjoz, Boulevard Fleming, 25030 Besançon Cedex, France [email protected]

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