A Cradle of Psychotherapy: Alcohol addiction treatment in Socialist Czechoslovakia, 1948-1989

Podcast Download: 

Adéla Gjuričová, History, Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Science, Prague, Czech Republic

“A Cradle of Psychotherapy: Alcohol addiction treatment in Socialist Czechoslovakia, 1948-1989”


Presented to the conference:

Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society

St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29-30 June 2017

See: All ‘Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society’ conference podcasts

Abstract: In spite of drastic political limitations put on socially and psychologically oriented approaches to many medical problems, alcohol addiction treatment enjoyed a dynamic development within the scheme of socialist medical care since the late 1940s. Jaroslav Skála was an example of a psychiatrist who managed not only to establish addictology as a prominent medical sub-specialization and to present its approaches to Western professional publics, but also to draw substantial resources into alternative methods of treatment: Some facilities made family members a part of the treatment, with therapists sharing the same regime with the patients.


In Czechoslovakia, psychotherapeutic training and practice was formally non-existent deep into the 1980s, and yet, Skála’s department made it a part of its alcohol addiction treatment, reflected on it in semi-official publications and even established a semi-formal system of psychotherapy training courses. Since 1969, the training produced about 2000 graduates who became the main source of the belated psychotherapeutic boom in the 1990s.


The paper argues that the alcohol addiction treatment represents an example of a remarkable niche of expertise which allows us to explore the phenomena characteristic for the position of institutionalized expert environments in socialist countries: First, there was a specific manner in which actors, exploiting their multiple identities, maximized their professional chances within a politically limiting condition. Second, there was a dynamic interaction with both domestic ideological debates as well as Western expertise. And third, the above described approaches to addiction treatment were implicitly challenging some of the key hierarchies of the socialist dictatorship.



© 2011. All content, Pulse-Project.org