The History of Mental Symptoms

Descriptive Psychopathology since the Nineteenth Century

This important book, written by a psychiatrist-historian, traces the genesis of the descriptive categories of psychopathology and examines their interaction with the psychological and philosophical context within which they arose. The author explores particularly the language and ideas that have characterized descriptive psychopathology from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. He presents a masterful survey of the history of the main psychiatric symptoms, from the metaphysics of classical antiquity to the operational criteria of today. Tracing the evolution of concepts such as memory, consciousness, will and personality, and of symptoms ranging from catalepsy and aboulia to anxiety and self-harm, this book provides fascinating insights into the subjective nature of mental illness, and into the ideas of British, Continental and American authorities who have clarified and defined it.


"German Berrios's history of descriptive psychopathology, a tour de force of multilingual erudition, surveys the sources, provides a perceptive analysis and offers some broad reflections on the Herculean enterprise of mapping a sea of troubles...he has put us deeply in his debt with a remarkable account of the mappings of the mind through a study that transcends the private technicalities of psychiatry to shed light on the changing representations of the Western psyche itself." Roy Porter, Nature

"...fascinating book on the history of mental symptoms....A very useful, easily read, and coherent book for graduate students and professionals in psychopathology or mental illness studies." Choice

"German Berrios's The History of Mental Symptoms: Descriptive Psychopathology Since the Nineteenth Century is a brilliant tour de force....Berrios has gone a long way in filling this gap with a major work that speaks not only to historians but also to mental health practitioners and researchers." Joel Braslow, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

'This scholarly treatise chronicles the history of the main mental symptoms based on French, German, Italian and British primary sources.' Aslib Book Guide

'In my opinion this book is the most remarkable event in the field of the history of psychiatry since the publication of Michael Foucault's Madness and Civilisation … At times one feels one is reading a strikingly original textbook of psychopathology disguised as a history.' Andrew Hodgkiss, Brain

'Berrios … has put us deeply in his debt with a remarkable account of the mappings of the mind through a study that transcends the private technicalities of psychiatry to shed light on the changing representations of the Western psyche itself.' Roy Porter, Nature

'… an absorbing book on a fascinating subject. One can either read on a particular concept or symptom that one is interested in (e.g. delusions, hallucinations), or read the whole book as a worthwhile endeavour in self-education. I expect that many who open the pages of this volume for the former, will end up doing the latter.' Sonia Gatzanis, Behaviour Research and Therapy

'His descriptions are both enriching and useful … The book is scholarly and mostly easy to use … the book is likely to become a classic and run into many editions.' Ann Dally, History of Psychiatry

'… novel in scope … it is also a book of impressive scholarship … highly illuminating.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

'… a useful reference book which enables the reader to readily review the historical development of concepts and phenomena commonly used in every clinical practice and research. The result is a rewarding and considerably enriching experience.' Hugh Middleton, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry

'The important monograph by German Berrios highlights an eclectic year of scholarship in the area. Substantial articles on fugue and on the schizophrenogenic mother concept have opened up new areas of historical enquiry and Continental works continue to be explicated for English-speaking audiences … No one in recent decades has been more historically active than the Cambridge psychiatrist German Berrios, and the publication of his monograph on the history of descriptive psychopathology since the early nineteenth century is to be welcomed. The attributes that characterize most of his historical scholarship are displayed in his book, i.e. the conceptual approach, the appreciation of continental literature and the spare, almost staccato, style of writing. Although Berrios has made liberal use of his earlier publications, this is a genuine work of synthesis organized along lines which nineteenth-century psychiatrists would recognize, into disorders of cognition and consciousness, mood and emotion, and volition and action. The 80 page bibliography is testimony to his vast reading and the full name and subject indices make the volume much easier to use … An outstanding synthesis of the field, employing the conceptual approach for which Berrios is well known. By dividing his analysis into disorders of cognition, emotion and volition, he retains a sensitive historical resonance.' W. F. Bynum, Rapid Science

'… a pioneering contribution to the history of psychopathology … both informative and enlightening … impressive breadth and orgininality of Berios's scholarship … its encylopedic coverage should earn the History of Mental Symptoms a place on the shelves of many psychopathologists and serious students of the history of psychiatry and psychology.' Daniel L. Schacter, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry

' … a remarkable scholarly achievement, a work of enormous ambition, and, I suspect, one of the most important books in our field.' Peter D. Cramer, American Journal of Psychiatry

' … a compendium to which future historians will sing hymns of praise and gratitude.' Henry R. Rollin, Horton Hospital, Epsom