William Cullen

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William Cullen

Dr. William Cullen, FRS
Born 15 April 1710
Hamilton, United Kingdom
Died 5 February 1790
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Nationality Scottish
Occupation Physician, Professor of Edinburgh Medical School
Known for Developer of the theory of Neurosis

William Cullen was a Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist, and one of the most important professors at the Edinburgh Medical School, during its heyday as the leading center of medical education in the English-speaking world. Cullen was also a central figure in the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. He was David Hume's physician and friend. He was President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow from 1746 to 1747, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1773 to 1775, and First Physician to the King in Scotland from 1773 to 1790.

Cullen was a beloved teacher in Edinburgh, and many of his students soon became influential figures in the medical profession in their own right. His best-known students - many of whom continued to correspond with him professionally during his long life - included: Joseph Black, Benjamin Rush, John Morgan, William Withering, Sir Gilbert Blane, and John Coakley Lettsom.

William Cullen's primary contribution to the field of psychiatry was the development of the theory of Neurosis in 1777, which he felt explained some of the ailments that had no physiological basis. This theory remained commonplace in psychiatric treatment until 1980, and has since been replaced by a variety of modern conditions, mostly consisting of anxiety disorders.

He also related that Insanity, Mania, and Melancholy are disorders of the brain, stating that “I believe that physicians are generally disposed to suspect organic lesions of the brain to exist in almost every case of insanity. This, however, is probably a mistake: for we know that there have been many instances of insanity from which the persons have entirely recovered; and it is difficult to suppose that any organic lesions of the brain had in such case taken place. Such transitory cases, indeed, render it probable, that a state of excitement, changeable by various causes, had been the cause of such instances of insanity”. However, he was aware that individuals recovered from bouts of insanity, and so caution was required in making this connection. Cullen discussed the state of the brain in those who had died from mental illness, and even suggested that melancholia was a consequence of abnormal brain structure, the first scuh western physician to do so. His clinical works were influential throughout Europe, although it was not uncritically received. Cullen’s classification of mental disorders did not endure in the medical world for very long, as it was deemed overly glossy.

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