Johann Christian Reil

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Johann Christian Reil
Johann Christian Reil (1811).jpg
Reil the anatomist: a portrait from 1811
Born(1759-02-20)20 February 1759
Died22 November 1813(1813-11-22) (aged 54)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Halle
Humboldt University of Berlin
Reil's tomb on the Reilberg in Halle (Saale), Germany, today Bergzoo Halle

Johann Christian Reil (20 February 1759, Rhaude (an urban district of Rhauderfehn) – 22 November 1813, Halle an der Saale) was a German physician, physiologist, anatomist, and psychiatrist. He coined the term psychiatryPsychiatrie in German – in 1808.[1][2]

Medical conditions and anatomical features named after him include Reil's finger (later called digitus mortuus or Raynaud syndrome) and the Islands of Reil in the cerebral cortex. In 1809, he was the first to describe the white fibre tract now called the arcuate fasciculus.[3] He is frequently and erroneously crediting with discovering the locus coeruleus,[4] which was first described by Félix Vicq-d'Azyr.[5]

In 1779 and 1780, Reil became acquainted with the scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach while Reil was studying medicine in Göttingen.[6] From 1788 to 1810, Reil worked in a hospital in Halle, Germany. There he developed a medical program based heavily on Friedrich Schelling's Naturphilosophie[7] In 1795 Reil established the very first journal of physiology in German, the Archiv für die Physiologie.[8] In 1810 he became one of the first university teachers of psychiatry when appointed professor of medicine in Berlin.

From 1802-1805, the poet Goethe visited Reil to discuss scientific matters such as psychiatry and to access his skills as a physician.[9]

Reil used the term 'psychiaterie' in a short-lived journal he set up with J.C. Hoffbauer, Beytrage zur Beforderung einer Curmethode auf psychischem Wege (1808: 169). He argued there should not just be a branch of medicine (psychische Medizin) or of theology or penal practice, but a discipline in its own right with trained practitioners. He also sought to publicize the plight of the insane in the asylums and to develop a 'psychical' method of treatment, consistent with the moral treatment movement of the times. He was critical of Frenchman Philippe Pinel, however. Reil was mainly theoretical, with little direct clinical experience, by contrast with Pinel. Reil is considered a writer within the German Romantic context, and his 1803 work Rhapsodien uber die Anwendung der psychischen Kurmethode auf Geisteszerrüttungen ('Rhapsodies about applying the psychological method of treatment to mental breakdowns') has been called the most important document of Romantic psychiatry. Reil didn't conceptualize madness as just a break from reason but as a reflection of wider social conditions, and believed that advances in civilization created more madness. He saw this as due not to physical lesions in the brain or to hereditary evil, but as a disturbance in the harmony of the mind's functions (forms of awareness or presence), rooted in the nervous system.[10]

Reil also wrote on Blumenbach's idea of the Bildungstrieb (literally, "building power"), a vital force within each organism that compels it to create, maintain, and repair its form. In Reil's essay "Von der Lebenskraft," he argued that each organism contained a "dormant germ" that was activated by the addition of the father's "animal force."[11]

Reil died on 22 November 1813[12] from typhus contracted while treating the wounded in the Battle of Leipzig, later known as the Battle of the Nations, one of the most severe confrontations of the Napoleonic Wars.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ British Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatry’s 200th birthday
  2. ^ Binder DK, Schaller K, Clusmann H. (2007). The seminal contributions of Johann-Christian Reil to anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry. Neurosurgery. 61(5): 1091–6 doi:10.1227/01.neu.0000303205.15489.23 PMID 18091285
  3. ^ Catani M, Mesulam M. (2008). The arcuate fasciculus and the disconnection theme in language and aphasia: history and current state. Cortex. 44(8):953-61. PMID 18614162
  4. ^ Maeda T. (2000). The Locus coeruleus: history. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. 18:57–64. PMID 10708919
  5. ^ Tubbs, R. Shane; Loukas, Marios; Shoja, Mohammadali M.; Mortazavi, Martin M.; Cohen-Gadol, Aaron A. (2011). "Félix Vicq d'Azyr (1746–1794): early founder of neuroanatomy and royal French physician". Child's Nervous System. 27 (7): 1031–1034. doi:10.1007/s00381-011-1424-y. ISSN 0256-7040. PMID 21445631.
  6. ^ Watson, Peter. The German Genius. New York: Harper, 2010. p. 83.
  7. ^ a b Hansen, Leeann. "From Enlightenment to Naturphilosophie: Marcus Herz, Johann Christian Reil, and the Problem of Border Crossings." Journal of Natural Biology. Spring 1993, Vol 26., No. 1. pp. 39–64.
  8. ^ Binder, Devin K.; Schaller, Karl; Clusmann, Hans (2007). "The Seminal Contributions of Johann-Christian Reil to Anatomy, Physiology, and Psychiatry". Neurosurgery. 61 (5): 1091–1096. doi:10.1227/01.neu.0000303205.15489.23. PMID 18091285. S2CID 8152708.
  9. ^ Binder, D.K.; Schaller, K.; and Clusmann, H. "The seminal contributions of Johann-Christian Reil to anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry." Neurosurgery. November 2007, 61(5): 1091–6.
  10. ^ Theodore Ziolkowski, German Romanticism and its Institutions. Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 181–217.
  11. ^ Watson, p. 83.
  12. ^ Klemme, Heiner F (30 June 2016). The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century German Philosophers. Bloomsbury. p. 608. ISBN 9781474256001. Retrieved 21 November 2018.


  • Marneros, Andreas (2005): Das Wort Psychiatrie wurde in Halle geboren. ISBN 3-7945-2413-6

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