Dr. William Rivers

Turns out, Dr. William Rivers was a real man! He was a psychologist in WWI and a bit before. He was born in 1864. He also was an anthropologist, neurologist, and ethnologist in addition to psychology. He studied at Cambridge and met Horace Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin! Early in his psychology career, he learned how to speak fluent German to read publications in German. He later went to Bethlem Royal Hospital to work as a clinical assistant in 1892 and the next year in 1893 he went to Guy’s Hospital to assist lectures on mental illness. Rivers had an interest in neurology and experimented with nerve injures in the London hospital in 1901. During WWI, he worked at the Craiglockart Hospital treating officers with shell shock. He used psychoanalysis to help them with their issues. The most remarkable thing though was his forward thinking, encouraging his patients to express their emotions openly…

As such, he really is a pioneer in his field – both for his new methods and for the fact that he went against the grain of the beliefs of the time (Shell shock was not considered a “real” illness and “cures” mainly involved electric shock, with doctors such as Lewis Yealland particularly keen on this form of “treatment”). Rivers’s treatment also went against the grain of the society in which he had been brought up – he did not advocate the traditional “stiff upper-lip” approach but rather told his patients to express their emotions.

His most famous patient was Siegfried Sassoon, a famous war poet. Sassoon and he got along quite well. After the war, Rivers became more laid back and went out on more social occasions. He also did more public speaking. Unfortunately, he died at age 58 in 1922. He signed someone’s diploma for anthropology on the day of his death.

Check out this paper he wrote on war experiences! On The Repression of War Experience


About History Is Interesting

I like ancient and medieval history!
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