KRAFFT-EBING, RICHARD VON(1840-1902)

Krafft-Ebing, chiefly noted for his study of sexual pathology, was born in Mannheim, Germany, and studied at Prague, Heidelberg, and Zurich. After serving as assistant physician at the “lunatic asylum” at Illenau, he directed the electrotherapeutic clinic at Baden-Baden and later became professor of psychiatry at the universities of Strasbourg and Graz. He served as director of the National Insane Asylum at Graz between 1873 and 1889, and was then appointed professor of psychiatry at the University of Vienna, later returning to Graz to work in his own private sanatorium.Among Krafft-Ebing’s earlier publications were treatises on forensic psychopathology and criminal psychology,which became standard texts at the time. Four of his other works became available in English translation: An Experimental Study in the Domain of Hypnotism (1889), Psychopathia Sexu- alis (1892), Psychosis Menstrualis (1892) and Textbook of Insanity (1905). His name is primarily associated with the Psychopathia Sexualis, in which he presented clinical descriptions of sexual pathology. The work was a revolutionary contribution at the time, for during the strait-laced Victorian age the subject of sexuality was taboo in polite society and had been almost completely ignored by the medical profession as well. Its chief importance, as Zilboorg and Henry (1941) point out, was in protesting against this omission and in drawing attention to the fact that the “lower instincts” of man clamor for an outlet.Krafft-Ebing’s treatises, along with the work of Nacke, Forel, Weininger, and Havelock Ellis, documented the many forms which the sexual drive can take, and their effect on human relationships. At the same time, the literary works of De Maupassant, Zola, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Shaw, and Proust also reflected the growing attempt to break through the rigidity and intolerance of the age, and to explore the inner needs and impulses of the “bete humaine” on both normal and pathological levels.Krafft-Ebing also did important work on general paralysis, which later became known as general paresis. In his earlier view (1877) he cited a large number of factors as possible causes: hereditary degeneracy, dissipation (wine and sex), cigar-smoking, excessive heat and cold, head trauma, exhaustion, weak nerves, and fright, as well as menopause in the case of women. At that time he did not mention syphilis as a possible cause, although a paper on syphilis and insanity had been published by Esmarch and lessen in 1857. Later, however, he inoculated general paralytics with syphilis and concluded that they had previously been infected with the disease since they did not react to the inoculation. This important discovery, which anticipated the Wassermann test, led to preventive measures which greatly reduced the incidence of general paresis. He also stimulated research directed toward curing syphilitic infections, which sometimes remain hidden for years and later attack the spinal cord and brain.It is an interesting fact that KrafEt- Ebing began his intellectual life as a “traditional, organically minded and purely descriptive medical psychologist” (Zilboorg and Henry, 1941), but by 1897 he had begun to be influenced by the growing recognition of cultural and psychological determinants. Yet, though he often referred to “our nervous age” as an important factor in mental disorder, he did not go far in developing this viewpoint.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "KRAFFT-EBING, RICHARD VON(1840-1902)," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/krafft-ebing-richard-von1840-1902/ (accessed March 18, 2019).
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