An Association with Tradition: Historical Development
In Germany, the development of psychiatry as an independent science and autonomous field of medicine is closely linked to the history of the professional association and of psychiatric journals.
The term ‘Psychiatrie’ (psychiatry) originates from the physician Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813) from Halle, Germany. The first documented attempts to organise psychiatrists in Germany can be found in an 1827 memorandum from Joseph Ennemoser (Bonn) and Wilhelm Ruer (Marburg) that called for the foundation of a society to improve practical medicine for diseases of the mind. This initiative was unsuccessful at first, one of the reasons being the limited representation of psychiatry in the medical faculties (the first chair of psychiatry was established in Leipzig in 1811).
The ‘Memorial to Germany’s Doctors for the Insane’ (‘Pro Memoria an Deutschlands Irrenärzte’), written in 1841 by Heinrich Damerow, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Lunatic Asylum in Halle, can be seen as the ‘founding document’ of today’s DGPPN. 1842 is considered the official year in which the society was founded. In 1844, the first issue of the ‘General Journal for Psychiatry and Mental-Forensic Medicine’ (‘Allgemeinen Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medizin’) was published, edited by Heinrich Damerow (Halle), Carl Friedrich Flemming (Schwerin) and Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Roller (Achern); the editors and contributors of the journal saw themselves as members of an as yet unofficial ‘Association of Germany’s Doctors for the Insane’ (‘Gesellschaft von Deutschlands Irrenärzten’).
At the 1846 meeting in Kiel of the ‘Association of German Natural Scientists and Physicians’ (‘Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte’), founded in 1822, a section of psychiatry was formed for the first time. In 1860, the first independent meeting of psychiatrists took place in Eisenach. The society received its first statutes in 1864 and thereafter called itself the ‘Society of German Doctors for the Insane’ (‘Verein der Deutschen Irrenärzte’); its first president was Carl Friedrich Flemming (Schwerin). In 1903 the society was given the name ‘German Society for Psychiatry’ (DVP; ‘Deutscher Verein für Psychiatrie’).
By the First World War the DVP had 500 members. On the initiative of Emil Kraepelin (Munich), who chaired the society from 1906 to 1920, a research institute for psychiatry was established in Munich in 1917. The first regular annual meeting after the end of the First World War was held in Hamburg in 1920, and Karl Bonhoeffer (Berlin) was elected chairman. He remained chairman by means of re-election until 1934, albeit with interruptions.
Period of National Socialism
After the National Socialists took over power, the DVP underwent an organisational fusion and ‘Gleichschaltung’ (a Nazi process of alignment or assimilation within National Socialist society) with the ‘Association of German Neurologists’ (‘Gesellschaft Deutscher Nervenärzte’) to become the ‘Association of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists’ (GDNP; ‘Gesellschaft Deutscher Neurologen und Psychiater’); the GDNP was chaired by Ernst Rüdin (Munich) until 1945. The darkest chapter in German psychiatry fell within this period: psychiatrists declared to be ‘Jewish’ or ‘socialist’ lost their right to work and were forced to emigrate. The overwhelming majority of those who remained in Germany were deported to concentration or extermination camps. Psychiatrists (including Ernst Rüdin) were significantly involved in the forced sterilisation of more than 360,000 people, most of whom were mentally ill. The financial resources for the housing and treatment of chronically mentally ill people were drastically reduced. Finally, between 1939 and 1945 – again with significant involvement of psychiatrists, including professors and institute chairmen – in the German Reich and occupied areas at least 250,000 mentally ill and disabled people were classified as ‘lebensunwertes Leben’ (‘life unworthy of life’) and became victims of the systematic killings of ill people (‘euthanasia’).
Reorganisation after 1945
Young staff were lacking in the period of reconstruction after 1945. In September 1947, Ernst Kretschmer (Tübingen) invited colleagues to the meeting of neurologists and psychiatrists in Tübingen, which was followed one year later by the ‘Annual Meeting of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists’ in Marburg. The GDNP was re-founded, and Kretschmar appointed emergency chairman. In 1949, in accordance with its new statutes the society was divided into 4 sections: psychiatry, neurology, psychotherapy with medical psychology and neurosurgery. In 1954, at the 70th meeting of the Southwest German Neurologists, the ‘German Association for Psychiatry and Neurology’ (DGPN; ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Neurologie’) was founded as the successor organisation to the DVP.
In the former DDR, the ‘Association for Psychiatry in the DDR’ (‘Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Nervenheilkunde in der DDR’) was disbanded in 1991. It had been formed in 1990, shortly before German reunification, from the psychiatry section of the East German ‘Association for Neurology and Psychiatry’ (‘Gesellschaft für Neurologie und Psychiatrie’). The members of the association were co-opted by the DGPN. In 1992 the DGPN was renamed the ‘German Association for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy’ (DGPPN; ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Nervenheilkunde‘).
The DGPPN confronts its past
In 2009, with amending the contitution of the association, the DGPPN acknowledged the special responsibility it carries as a result of the involvement of its predecessor organisations in the crimes of National Socialism, mass murders of ill people and forced sterilisations. In 2010 the association initiated a research project on the ‘History of the German Association for Psychiatry (DVP) and the Association of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists (GDNP) during the time of National Socialism’. The project will run for two years. Thereafter, the effects of the NS period on this field of psychiatry after 1945 will be studied.