The term catathymia is derived from the Greek kata (“according to”) and thymos (“spirits or temper”). Feyerabend's (1969) Greek dictionary gives various translations, the most appropriate of which is “in accordance with emotions.” Catathymia (Katathymie) was first used by Hans W. Maier (1912) as a psychodynamic explanation for the development of the content of delusions. The concept later became used, notably by Fredric Wertham, as an explanation for extreme acts of violence, including homicide and some types of sexual homicide. This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of Maier's seminal papers (published in 1912 and 1923), which have never been translated or fully reviewed, as well as a discussion of Wertham's writings on “the catathymic crisis.”
After studying medicine at Zurich, Strassburg, and Vienna, Hans Maier joined the staff of the well-known Burghölzli Hospital in 1905. Burghölzli, founded in Switzerland in the mid-19th century, was the first mental hospital to accept psychoanalysis as a modality of treatment. Therapeutic work programs, as well as the concept of the halfway house, were introduced there. Nearby, the first residential treatment center in the field of child psychiatry was established in 1920. In fact, the entire child guidance movement, in an indirect way, was influenced by the hospital and the intellectual climate it created (Mora, 1975). See Figure 4.1.