Cormac Gallagher – Hysteria – Does it Exist

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 109-124


Whatever the outcome of our debate on the existence or non-existence of hysteria, I think we can agree in advance that it will be a long time before the Hysteria Association of Ireland holds its first national appeal. This highlights the peculiar status of hysteria, which has nothing to do with the stigma of mental illness. Schizophrenia, autism and even the newly arrived M.E. all have their public profile. So why is it so incongruous to imagine a group of self-declared hysterics forming an association and delegating representatives to appear on some popular chat-show to describe themselves as suffering from hysteria and hoping to elicit public sympathy and support by detailing a list of somatic complaints which have baffled a multitude of specialists? (One man recently presented at a case conference had been under the care of 19 different consultants as well as having had a long history of impossible relationships with parents, spouses, children and colleagues.) What is this disease that dare not speak its name and which is now in the process of losing that name with the inexorable progress of scientific psychiatry?

I do not know if I am doing anything to arrest that progress by pointing out, as psychoanalysis has done from its beginnings, the irreplaceable role of myth in coming to an understanding of human reality. The analyst is cautioned that, unless he is well at home in mythology as well as other fields, he will be unable to make anything of…

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