Psychosomatic Connections. Mind-Body Histories in Finnish Medicine, ca. 1945–2000

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa campus, lecture hall IT115

Topic of the dissertation

Psychosomatic Connections. Mind-Body Histories in Finnish Medicine, ca. 1945–2000

Doctoral candidate

MA Eve Hyrkäs

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, History of Sciences and Ideas

Subject of study

History of Sciences and Ideas

Opponent

Professor Anne Harrington, Harvard University, Department of the History of Science

Custos

Professor Petteri Pietikäinen, University of Oulu

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Doctoral defence on mind-body interactions in the contemporary history of medicine

The dissertation on “psychosomatic connections” – that is, the interplay of mind and body in health and illness – addresses a timeless theme. The underlying question for those who suffer from – for instance – stress-induced hair loss, heart palpitations related to anxiety or a persistent fear of illness is often the same – do I suffer from a physical illness, or is it “all in the mind”? The dissertation shows that (medical) interpretations of mind-body interactions are products of their time. The 1950s patient concerned about a toxic goitre growing inward shares a lot with present-day cyberchondriacs. But despite the popular conception that the word “psychosomatic” is synonymous with “all in the mind”, in reality the connotations of the word and the concept go much further. Therefore, the dissertation explores how the psychosomatic concept brought together medical experts, patients and policymakers in twentieth-century Finland (ca. 1945–2000).

Drawing a line between mental troubles and physical complaints has always been easier in parlance than in practice. The difficulties of this kind of boundary-work have been evident in discussions between medical experts, which constitute the primary source material of this study. For one, the dissertation shows that the respective weight of subjective feelings and objective findings has been evaluated in debates on hormonal disturbances and experiences of pain (to give a few examples). For another, conditions considered “psychosomatic” have often invited hypotheses and arguments ranging from soci(et)al to spiritual. The psychosomatic concept has helped to view the “narrow” biomedical approach in a critical light. In other words, it has been used to create a “contact zone”, where the proponents of different medical (sub-)disciplines and alternative and unorthodox approaches have been able to meet and exchange ideas. For this reason, I argue that the psychosomatic concept should be explored as a vehicle for communication and a catalyst of new associations.

All in all, the dissertation foregrounds negotiations about the standards of medical knowledge and their relationship to the world-readings of historical actors. In doing so, it stresses that boundary-crossings (or attempts at such crossings) are central to understanding how psychosomatics has functioned on scientific, social and cultural levels.
Last updated: 30.5.2022