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Review of 

The Causation and Treatment of Psychopathic Diseases

Meyer Soloman, M. D.

Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1916, 11, 275-277.


THE CAUSATION AND TREATMENT OF PSYCHOPATHIC DISEASES. By Boris Sidis, A. M., Ph. D., M. D., Medical Director of The Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute. Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1916. $2.50 net. Pp. 418.

         The mere mention that a work on the causation and treatment of psychopathic diseases at the hands of Sidis has made its appearance should be sufficient for the discriminating reader and for him who knows who is who in psychopathology to lead to an immediate purchase and reading of the volume. There are few writers on things psychopathologic who are deserving of the consideration and attention of the average reader to the extent to which Sidis rightfully commands the same.

         There is not a dull moment in the work before us. The very first sentence in the introduction begins with the punch behind it and the final sentence in the book is of the same sort. There is no mistaking what Sidis means. He makes certain that he has explained his views clearly and that you unquestionably understand. There is no haziness or ambiguity. He knows exactly what he wishes to say. He knows how to say it. You know what he means. If you do not agree with him, that is another matter. But you at least know where he stands―unequivocally.

         A few random shots from different portions of the work will be presented in this brief review.

         Sidis insists that psychopathic diseases per se are not inherited but acquired. A susceptible nervous system is prerequisite. He attacks the ultra-eugenists."

         He then plunges into the problem of the causes and therapy of functional psychoses.

         The twenty chapters of the work are as follows: psychopathic reflexes, main clinical forms of neuroses and psychopathies, the source of psychopathies, embryonic personality and psychopathic affections, the fear instinct and psychopathic states, manifestations of fear instinct and symptoms of psychopathic diseases, the main principles of psychopathic diseases, the law of recession, the law of reversion, the process of degeneration, the impulse of self-preservation in psychopathic diseases, neuron energy and neurosis, clinical cases, psychognosis of psychopathic cases, psychognosis of the psychopathic substratum, psychopathic fears, general psychotherapeutic methods, the method of hypnoidization, clinical cases of hypnoidal treatment, the hypnoidal state and reserve energy.

        Here are some of the many points brought out by Sidis. "Psychopathic maladies are the formation of abnormal; morbid 'conditional reflexes' and of inhibitions of reactions of associative normal life activity." There is a discussion of the classification of nervous and mental diseases into organopathies or necropathies (organic), and neuropathies and psychopathies (both functional), the psychopathies being again grouped under two headings: somato or somopsychoses and psychoneuroses.

         The real source of psychopathic states is the fear instinct, or any of its lesser manifestations or associated states. Psychopaths are characterized by an embryonic personality, a narrow, suggestible personal life.

         The fear instinct is rooted in the instinct of self-preservation which is at the foundation of all psychopathic cases.

         The manifestations of the fear instinct and the symptoms of psychopathic conditions are given and compared.

         The main principles of psychopathic diseases are enumerated as follows: embryonic psychogenesis, recurrence, proliferation and complication, fusion or synthesis, contrast, recession, dissociation, irradiation or diffusion, differentiation, dominance, dynamogenesis, inhibition, diminishing resistance, metathesis and control by modification. These principles are developed.

         "The law of recession is the process of a moment's passing from the conscious into the subconscious," while the law of reversion is the passing of the moment consciousness in the opposite direction. The process of degeneration consists in the simplification of the form of life of the psychopath.

         There is an excellent presentation of the role of the impulse of self-preservation in psychopathic persons, in which the author terminates his illuminating discussion by asserting that the three psychopathic furies are fear, egotism, and ennui.

         Then follows a good chapter on neuron energy and neurosis, with a consideration of the tendency to fatigue and fatigue-fear in psychopaths.

         In the next four chapters plenty of well presented clinical cases are given, of many types.

         A very interesting and instructive chapter on general psychotherapeutic methods is followed by a description of the characteristics of the hypnoidal state and the method of hypnoidization, with clinical cases of hypnoidal treatment to boot.

        The final chapter deals with the hypnoidal state and the principle of reserve energy.

         No doubt Sidis has not said all there is to say about psychopathic diseases. Others have said many things that Sidis has not said. And Sidis could say much more than he has given us in this volume. But, taking it all in all, Sidis has presented us with a book which is unquestionably one of the best that has been written on practical, every day psychopathology. His grasp of psychopathic diseases and his knowledge of the makeup of the psychopath is broad indeed, for he has lived with them and studied them at first hand. He adopts a biological and evolutionary viewpoint which sheds much light on the understanding of the driving forces of the psychopath, The work is replete with original concepts. It is the gift of a master psychopathologist, and one who knows how to tell you, in plain, positive language what he wishes to say.

         Sidis has thrown his hat into the ring with vim and vigor; he insists that fear or related states, rooted in the impulse of self-preservation, is the sole fundamental cause of psychopathies of a functional nature. Mental conflicts and the like cannot, of themselves, produce psychopathic conditions. It is only when the fear instinct is stirred into activity and enters into the conflict that there is any possibility of psychopathic states developing.

         I do not say that you will agree with Sidis. But I do say that you cannot ignore this work, because it is written by one of the few really great living psychopathologists, by a man who is rational and level-headed, who knows the lay of the land in psychopathology, and who gives you his views in a straightforward manner.

         The directness of the presentation throughout the volume is refreshing. You feel that the man who has written the work is standing before you expounding his views in real man to man fashion. He is trying to answer the questions which come to your lips. And when you finish the last chapter, you would like to hear and read more from Sidis, because you know that he has much more to say.

         One who reads between the lines and compares certain of the ideas of Sidis with those presented by other workers in the field of the mental sciences, we see a certain degree of resemblance here and there. Great minds often run in the same groove or come to the same conclusions.

         With the particular class of patients that Sidis has had to treat he reports the following results. "Most Of the patients, about seventy-five percent, were cured. About twenty percent of the patients greatly improved. The remainder, about five percent, did not respond, on account of the short time of the treatment."

         Sidis impresses one as being a thorough-going optimist in Psychotherapy.



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