The Subject of History

Department of History | The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology



About the research

In my current postdoc project, I look at the treatment of mental illness from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. More specifically, I focus on how the encounter between patient and practitioner was conceptualized and valued from the practitioner's point of view. How were patients to be addressed and treated? What roles fell to patients and practitioners? The therapeutic encounter was not limited to the strictly professional; it was, in fact, a deeply subjective experience, lived out between two individuals with their own personal experiences and viewpoints. In what way, if any, was the encounter considered a significant factor in the process of recovery, or even relevant in the treatment of mental illness? I investigate how these questions were addressed within different fields involved in the treatment of the mentally ill, such as mesmerism, hypnotism, medicine, psychiatry, neurology, and psychotherapy. My source material consists of a wide range of literature concerning the treatment of mental illness, spanning from mesmerists’ case studies to practical handbooks in asylum treatment.

By studying a wide range of disciplines over a long period of time, I aim to get a broad picture of the therapeutic landscape and the conflicting views on the role of the practitioner, the proper ways of treating patients, and, ultimately, the healing power of the therapeutic encounter. These are questions that are still highly relevant in the treatment of mental illness.

I use a hermeneutical approach, inspired by philosopher Hans Georg Gadamers writings on the hermeneutics in medical encounters and by philosopher Fredrik Svenaeus discussions on how the concepts of hermeneutic dialogue, fronesis and empathy can be combined and made use of in an investigation of medical practice and encounters between patient and practitioner.


Books (1)
Editorships (1)
Articles (7)
Book chapters (7)
Reviews (12)
Articles in specialist publications and popular press (2)

Research portal (Lund University)

Cecilia Riving

Department of History

Contact information

E-mail cecilia.rivinghist.luse

Phone +46 46 222 79 79

Room LUX:A215

Visiting address Helgonavägen 3, Lund

Postal address Box 192, 221 00 Lund

Internal post code 30