This paper aims to show why a systematic history of obsessive and compulsive symptoms (today called OCD) offers more than a special chapter in the history of psychiatry. It opens a window on the genesis of the Western individual by casting new light on the functions of self-restraint, self-control, and the self-monitoring of intentions and moral feelings (guilt, anxiety), as well as on the formation of a sense of individual autonomy and ‘interiority.’ Such a project aligns with Norbert Elias’s notion of the ‘civilizing process,’ but is distinct from Foucault’s views on madness and normalcy. I finally consider contemporary cognitive and behavioral treatments of OCD in light of their participation in this historical process. The efficacy of such treatments might be explained, in large measure, as deriving from their reliance on, and implicit fostering of, contemporary cultural ideals of autonomy.


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pp. 299-309
Launched on MUSE
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