The hidden wounds of childhood trauma

07 Dec 2017

Although the role of intense psychological distress in psychopathology has been recognized for centuries, the metaphorical use of the word ‘trauma’ to indicate intense psychological distress only became popular in the midst of the industrial revolution (Danese & Baldwin, 2017 Danese, A., & Baldwin, J. (2017). Hidden wounds? Inflammatory links between childhood trauma and psychopathology. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), 517–544. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044208 [Google Scholar] ). The introduction of the steam engine and the spread of railways led to a sharp increase in train accidents. Strikingly, many accidents involved previously healthy individuals who developed mental illness even in the absence of physical injury – the so-called ‘railway spine’. These unusual observations triggered a heated debate. On the one side, there were proponents of organic explanations (e.g. Oppenheim), who thought train accidents could have caused yet undetectable brain injuries leading to psychopathology. On the other side, there were proponents of functional explanations (e.g. Charcot), who thought that the mental/intra-psychic representation of the accidents – so-called ‘psychological’ trauma – could lead to psychopathology.