“Talk therapy turns hysterical misery

to mundane unhappiness.”


The Salpetriere Hospital situated in Paris, France has a fascinating history. It was built by Louis XIV, as a factory to make gunpowder. Later, the factory was shifted other where and Louis ordered to convert it into a hospice for the destitute but it actually served as a prison for prostitutes, an asylum for homeless, mentally disabled or criminally insane and the paupers. In the French Revolution, the mob stormed La Salpetriere and ravished the undefended women, even killing them.

In the 1800s, Philippe Pinel, founder of moral treatment, initiated humanitarian reforms to treat mental illness, unchaining Salpetriere’s inmates. Later by the end of the century, Jean-Martin Charcot laid foundations of the modern neurology. Charcot believed if anyone susceptible to hypnosis was to be diagnosed with hysteria i.e. a condition involving fits and anxiety to paralysis. To solve scientific mysteries of hysteria, medics experimented to the point where they incarcerated sane people.

This institute attracted students like Sigmund Freud. One of Freud’s physician friend, Joseph Breuer, used hypnosis to treat a woman from an affluent Jewish family named Bertha Pappenheim, known by the pseudonym “Anna O”. This was an uncanny, yet a highly intelligent woman who experienced hallucinations and partial paralysis. She developed a split personality and at times could only speak English, telling her pensive personal history. Freud realised that Breuer uncovered a cure for hysteria and applied this innovative idea into a nuanced fashion, to treat his cathartic patients, giving birth to Psychoanalysis.