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Jean Etienne Esquirol

(February 3, 1772 - December 13, 1840)
French Psychiatrist

Portugees version


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  • Doctor of Medicine, La Salpàtriäre, Paris 
  • 1811, physician at La Salpàtriäre 
  • 1823, chief inspector, University of Paris 
  • 1826, chief physician, asylum in Charenton, France 
Ideas and Contributions

Prior to the 1800's there existed no differentiation between mental deficiency and insanity.  Jean Etienne Esquirol made the first attempt to to delineate this difference.  He stated:
     "Idiocy is not a disease but a condition in which the intellectual facilities are never manifested or 
     have never been developed sufficiently to enable the idiot to acquire such amount of knowledge 
     as persons of his own age reared in similar circumstances are capable of receiving." (p.26)
Esquirol not only attempted to determine a differentiation between mental retardation and insanity, but also anticipated a number of future developments in the study of mental retardation.  He espoused a belief that retardation was not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, but felt that it existed on a continuum from normalcy to idiocy.  Also, in an attempt to classify individuals with mental retardation, he used language capability a criterion rather than sensations or physiognomy.  Unfortunately, Esquirol did not feel that those individuals with mental retardation would benefit from training.  

Esquirol contributed to psychology through his work with inmates in insane asylums. By lecturing on the treatment of the insane, Esquirol was able to get a French commission to investigate the inhuman treatment of inmates. In 1838 he wrote Des maladies mentales, the first book to espouse an objective and rational view of mental disorders. (Zusne)

Esquirol differentiated between hallucinations and illusions, emphasized environmental and age factors as precipitants of mental disorders and the role of emotions in such disorders. He continued to develop Pinel's statistical classification of inmates by age, disorder, and other characteristics. It later became the established practice to keep ample records on patients as one approach to the understanding of the origin of mental disorders. (Zusne, p. 80)

Des Maladies Mentales (1838), a treatise on insanity
Included in above: an Essay on Hysteria being an analysis of its irregular and aggravated forms

References: 29

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