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Letter to the Editor   |    
Origin of the Term “Schizophrenia”
JACK C. SCHOENHOLTZ, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:1393-a-1393. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.7.1393-a

To the Editor: The portrayal by Ernest L. Abel, Ph.D., of the 1857 "theory of degeneration" of Benedict-Augustin Morel (1) as a "parsimonious explanation for the etiology of insanity" dominating French psychiatry for "almost a century" overestimated its influence by almost half a century.

By 1911, Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler had renamed Kraepelin’s 1899 Latin form of Morel’s earlier term demence precoce, "schizophrenia," emphasizing that the illness known as "dementia praecox" was not an actual dementia and did not always begin at an early age. Although the growing influence of German psychiatry in France induced negative reactions, whose main target was the work of Kraepelin, the nationalistic tone reached its apex on the French side during World War I, and only some faint traces remained for several years after 1920 (2).

Moreover, the 1950 discovery of chlorpromazine by physician Henri Laborit and the seminal work in 1952 by French psychiatrists Jean Delay and Pierre Deniker, which introduced the chemical as a treatment for schizophrenia (3), demonstrated French psychiatrists’ much earlier acceptance of the Bleuler model.

Although today we can look to Morel’s work as a progenitor of the current biological approach to psychiatric illnesses, Bleuler’s characterization—"the group of schizophrenias"—remains the more parsimonious approach.

Abel EL: Benedict-Augustin Morel (1809–1873) (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2004; 161:2185
[CrossRef]
 
Pichot P: [The history of German psychiatry from the viewpoint of French psychiatrists]. Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr  1992; 60:317–328 (German)
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Etain B, Roubaud L: Jean Delay, MD, 1907–1987 (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2002; 159:1489
[CrossRef]
 
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References

Abel EL: Benedict-Augustin Morel (1809–1873) (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2004; 161:2185
[CrossRef]
 
Pichot P: [The history of German psychiatry from the viewpoint of French psychiatrists]. Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr  1992; 60:317–328 (German)
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Etain B, Roubaud L: Jean Delay, MD, 1907–1987 (image, psych). Am J Psychiatry  2002; 159:1489
[CrossRef]
 
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