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10 Mind-Boggling Psychiatric Treatments

Nobody ever claimed a visit to the doctor was a pleasant way to pass the time. But if you're timid about diving onto a psychiatrist's couch or paranoid about popping pills, remember: It could be worse. Like getting-a-hole-drilled-into-your-skull worse. Or having-a-doctor-infect-you-with-malaria-to-cure-you worse. Think of it this way. After finding out what's not going to happen to you, that couch is going to start looking a lot more comfortable.


The coma-therapy trend began in 1927. Viennese physician Manfred Sakel accidentally gave one of his diabetic patients an insulin overdose, and it sent her into a coma. But what could have been a major medical faux pas turned into a triumph. The woman, a drug addict, woke up and declared her morphine craving gone. Then Sakel (who really isn't earning our trust here) made the same mistake with another patient, who also woke up claiming to be cured.

Before long, Sakel was intentionally testing the therapy with other patients and reporting a 90 percent recovery rate, particularly among schizophrenics. Strangely, however, Sakel's treatment success remains a mystery. Presumably, a big dose of insulin causes blood sugar levels to plummet, which starves the brain of food and sends the patient into a coma. But why this unconscious state would help psychiatric patients is anyone's guess.

Regardless, the popularity of insulin therapy [wiki] faded, mainly because it was dangerous. Slipping into a coma is no walk in the park, and between one and two percent of treated patients died as a result.


Ancient life was not without its hazards. Between wars, drunken duels, and the occasional run-in with an inadequately domesticated pig, it's no surprise that archaic skulls tend to have big holes in them.

But not all holes are created with equal abandon. Through the years, archaeologists have uncovered skulls marked by a carefully cut circular gap, which shows signs of being made long before the owner of the head passed away. These fractures were no accident; they were the result one of the earliest forms of psychiatric treatment called trepanation [wiki].

The basic theory behind this "therapy" holds that insanity is caused by demons lurking inside the skull. Boring a hole in the patient's head creates a door through which the demons can escape, and - viola! - out goes the crazy. Despite the peculiarity of the theory and lack of major-league anesthetics, trepanation was by no means a limited phenomenon. From the Neolithic era to the early 20th century, cultures all over the world used it was way to cure patients of their ills.

Doctors eventually phased out the practice as less, er, invasive procedures were developed. Average Joes, on the other hand, didn't follow suit. Trepanation patrons still exist. In fact, they even have their own organizations - and websites! Check out the International Trepanation Advocacy Group at if you're still curious.


Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin [wiki] was a physician, philosopher, and scientist, but he wasn't particularly adept at any of the three. Consequently, his ideas weren't always taken seriously. Of course, this could be because he liked to record them in bad poetic verse (sample: "By immutable immortal laws / Impress'd in Nature by the great first cause, / Say, Muse! How rose from elemental strife / Organic forms, and kindled into life"). It could also be because his theories were a bit far-fetched, such as his spinning-couch treatment.

Darwin's logic was that sleep could cure disease and that spinning around really fast a great way to induce the slumber. Nobody paid much attention to it at first, but later, American physician Benjamin Rush adapted the treatment for psychiatric purposes. He believed that spinning would reduce brain congestion and, in turn cure mental illness. He was wrong. Instead, Rush just ended up with dizzy patients who were still crazy. These days, rotating chairs are limited to the study of vertigo and space sickness.


If the word "hydrotherapy" conjures up images of Hollywood stars lazily soaking in rich, scented baths, then you probably weren't an early 20th-centruy mental patient.

Building off the idea that a dip in the water is often calming, psychiatrists of yore attempted to remedy various symptoms with corresponding liquid treatments. For instance, hyperactive patients got warm, tiring baths, while lethargic patients received stimulating sprays. Some doctors, however, got a bit too zealous about the idea, prescribing therapies that sounded more like punishment than panacea. One treatment involved mummifying the patient in towels soaked in ice-cold water. Another required the patient to remain continuously submerged in a bath for hours even days-which might not sound so bad, except they were strapped in and only allowed out to use the restroom.

Finally, some doctors ordered the use of high-pressure jets. Sources indicate that at least one patient was strapped to the wall in the crucification position (never a good sign) and blasted with water from a fire hose. Like many extreme treatments, hydrotherapy was eventually replaced with psychiatric drugs, which tended to be more effective - and more pleasant.


Much like Yoda, Austrian physician Franz Mesmer [wiki] (1734-1815) believed that an invisible force pervaded everything in existence, and that disruptions in this force caused pain and suffering. But Mesmer's ideas would have been of little use to Luke Skywalker. His basic theory was that the gravity of the moon affected the body's fluids in much the same way it caused ocean tides, and that some diseases accordingly waxed and waned with the phases of the moon. The dilemma, then, was to uncover what could be done about gravity's pernicious effects. Mesmer's solution: use magnets.

After all, gravity and magnetism were both about objects being attracted to each other. Thus, placing magnets on certain areas of a patient's body might be able to counteract the disruptive influence of the moon's gravity and restore the normal flow of bodily fluids. Surprisingly, many patients praised the treatment as a miracle cure, but the medical community dismissed it as supposititious hooey and chalked up his treatment successes to the placebo effect.

Mesmer and his theories were ultimately discredited, but he still left his mark. Today, he's considered the father of modern hypnosis because of his inadvertent discovery of the power of suggestion, and his name lives on in the English word "mesmerize."


Ah, if only we're talking about about a therapy for malaria. Instead, this is malaria [wiki] as therapy-specifically, as a treatment for syphilis. There was no cure for the STD until the early 1900s, when Viennese neurologist Wagner von Jauregg got the idea to treat syphilis sufferers with malaria-infected blood. Predictably, these patients would develop the disease, which would cause an extremely high fever that would kill the syphilis bacteria. Once that happened, they were given the malaria drug quinine, cured and sent home happy and healthy.

The treatment did have its share of side effects -that nasty sustained fever, for one - but it worked and it was a whole lot better than dying. In fact, Von Jauregg won the Nobel Prize for malaria therapy, and the treatment remained in use until the development of penicillin came along and gave doctors a better, safer way to sure the STD.


Nobody ever said doctors had flawless logic. A good example: seizure therapy. Hungarian pathologist Ladislas von Meduna pioneered the idea. He reasoned that, because schizophrenia was rare in epileptics, and because epileptics seemed blissfully happy after seizures, then giving schizophrenics seizures would make them calmer.

In order to do this von Meduna tested numerous seizure-inducing drugs (including such fun candidates as strychnine, caffeine, and absinthe) before settling on metrazol, a chemical that stimulates the circulatory and respiratory systems. And although he claimed the treatment cured the majority of his patients, opponents argues that the method was dangerous and poorly understood.

To this day, no one is quite clear on why seizures can help ease some schizophrenic symptoms, but many scientists believe the convulsions release chemicals otherwise lacking in patient's brains. Ultimately, the side effects (including fractured bones and memory loss) turned away both doctors and patients.


Once upon a time, women suffering from pretty much any type of mental illness were lumped together as victims of hysteria. The Greek physician Hippocrates [wiki] popularized the term, believing hysteria encompassed conditions ranging from nervousness to fainting fits to spontaneous muteness. The root cause, according to him, was a wandering womb.

So, whither does it wander? Curious about Hippocrates' theory, Plato [wiki] asked himself that very question. He claimed that is the uterus "remains unfruitful long beyond its proper time, it gets discontented and angry and wanders in every direction through the body, closes up the passages of breath, and, by obstructing respiration, drives women to extremity."

Consequently, cures for hysteria involved finding a way to "calm down" the uterus. And while there was no dearth of methods for doing this (including holding foul-smelling substances under the patient's nose to drive the uterus away from the chest), Plato believed that the only sure-fire way to solve the problem was to get married and have babies. After all, the uterus always ended up in the right place when it came time to bear a child.

Although "womb-calming" as psychiatric treatment died out long ago, hysteria as a diagnosis hung around until the 20th century, when doctors began identifying conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias.


19th century Phrenology [wiki] chart, with inscription "Discover yourself."
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Around the turn of the 19th century, German physician Franz Gall [wiki] developed phrenology, a practice based on the idea that people's personalities are depicted in the bumps and depressions of their skulls.

Basically, Gall believed that the parts of the brain a person used more often would get bigger, like muscles. Consequently, these pumped-up areas would take up more skull space, leaving visible bumps in those places on your head. Gall then tried to determine which parts of the skull corresponded to which traits. For instance, bumps over the ears meant you were destructive; a ridge at the top of the head indicated benevolence; and thick folds on the back of the neck were signs of a sexually oriented personality.

In the end, phrenologists did little to make their mark in the medical field, as they couldn't treat personality issues, only diagnose them (and inaccurately, at that). By the early 1900s, the fad had waned, and modern neuroscience had garnered dominion over the brain.


Everybody's favorite psychiatric treatment, the modern lobotomy [wiki] was the brainchild of Egas Moniz, a Portuguese doctor. Moniz believed that mental illness were generally caused by problems in the neurons of the frontal lobe, the part of the brain just behind the forehead. So when he heard about a monkey whose violent, feces-throwing urges had been curbed by cute to the frontal lobe, Moniz was moved to try out the same thing on his patients. (The lobe-cutting, not the feces-throwing.) He believed the technique could cure insanity while leaving the rest of the patient's mental function relatively normal, and his (admittedly fuzzy) research seemed to support that.

The accolades flooded in, and (in one of the lower points in the Karolinska Institute's history) Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949.

Walter Freeman performing a lobotomy in 1949 at the Western State Hospital
(Image Credit: Shedding Light on Shadowland)

After the lobotomy rage hit American shores, Dr. Walter Freeman took to traveling the country in his "lobotomobile" (no, really), performing the technique on everyone from catatonic schizophrenics to disaffected housewives. His road-ready procedure involved inserting a small ice pick into the brain through the eye socket and wiggling it around a bit.

While some doctors thought he's found a way to save hopeless cases from the horrors of life-long institutionalization, others noted that Freeman didn't bother with sterile techniques, had no surgical training whatsoever, and tended to be a bit imprecise when describing his patient's recovery.

As the number of lobotomies increased, a major problem became apparent. The patients weren't just calm; they were virtual zombies who scarcely responded to the world around them. Between that and the bad press received in films and novels such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the treatment soon fell out of favor.

Bonus: Father Hell Hath No Fury Like a Therapist Scorned

In the end, all 10 of these psychiatric treatments came under fire from critics and were shunned by the medical community. And the physicians involved usually went down with them. But not Franz Mesmer, the man behind mesmerism (see entry #5). He wasn't going out without a fight - several, actually.

Mesmer's career was plagued by various opponents, one of whom was a priest named Father Hell (Don't worry. We had the name fact-checked, twice). Apparently, the good Maximilian Hell tried to take credit for Mesmer's magnet-based psychiatric treatment. In response, a furious Mesmer replied by writing a dissertation explaining that the idea was his first. Unfortunately for Mesmer's argument, he plagiarized much of said dissertation.

In the end, though, it didn't matter much. Mesmer abandoned the practice in favor of his own personal magnetism. Somewhere along the way, he'd noticed that he could obtain equally good results by simply placing his hands on a patient's affected body part and concluded that he himself must be giving off magnetic energy.

Many people, including Father Hell, worried about a placebo effect, and controversy erupted once again. And again, Mesmer took great offense to his critics and defended his practices vehemently.

At one point, he even wrote an open letter to Marie Antoinette that belittled the Austrian royal family. Bad move. This prompted an irritated Louis XVI to appoint two commissions to investigate the magnetism fad. (For the record, members included Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Joseph Guillotin, after whom the guillotine was named.) One report concluded that Mesmer's results were likely attributable to the power of suggestion. That would've been bad enough, but another, confidential, report insinuated that Mesmer had a particular fondness for laying his hands on the bodies of young and beautiful women.

The article above, written by Dan Greenberg, is reprinted with permission from mental_floss magazine (May - Jun 2005 issue).

Don't forget to feed your brain, subscribe to the magazine and visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

Yeah, this wonderful profession and the pharmaceutical industry are doing their very best to drive the human race insane. Where would we be without them? Wish I knew...
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And not surprisingly, this 'science' hasn't advanced one bit in 200 years. Nowadays psychiatrists bring about a chemical induced coma with all the drugs they push - it's a lot quieter and not as dramatic, but still produces the same results.

Moden psychiatrists admit they have no idea how a patient will react to their drugs and that they have to change their drug or dosage to modify their patient's behavior.

And as for the basis of all this drugging: chemical imballance, there are no lab tests or scientific data to show any such imballance.

And on top of all that these drugs have suicidal and homocidal side effects which have resulted in school shootings and other related random homicides and suicides.

What a scam...
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I'm surprised that the entry for hysteria just talks about ancient treatments and doesn't look at "hysteria" in more recent eras. In the Victorian era, "hysteria" was not just a catch-all term for mental illness, but also a diagnosis for women who did strange things other than raising children and running the household, like pursuing the arts, social activism, or enjoying sex. Among treatments were "rest therapy" (an excellent piece is "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, showing just how mind-numbing that was), therapeutic orgasms, and clitoridectomy. Of course, none of the treatments really addressed any of the issues, but basically made a medical reason for men to keep women in the private sphere.
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You might be interested in knowing that Dr Henry Heimlich (of the somewhat discredited 'maneuver') actually proposes malaria treatment for AIDS.

You can read more here ...

... and you can read about its 'discreditation' here ...
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"So when he heard about a monkey whose violent, feces-throwing urges had been curbed by cute to the frontal lobe..."
So it looks like those "Hang in There" kitten posters are good for you after all!
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"....Moden psychiatrists admit they have no idea how a patient will react to their drugs and that they have to change their drug or dosage to modify their patient’s behavior...."

Sorry, but that is absolute nonsense. Nowadays we have HUGE amounts of knowledge about the drugs we use. And they are highly specific and extremely effective (in a positive way) in most of the cases. Lets take the treatment of depression for instance. Go and read up a little on how this condition can be cured in a lot of cases by the means of drugs. And this is because we KNOW about the metabolic misbalance that is causing most forms of depressions.

The reason why lots of people think those drugs are bad is because you have the misfortune of having a terrible healthcare system in the US. Of course it's bad if you prescribe prozac to a hyperactive child instead of taking his tv away. It's just a matter of how much responsibility you are willing to take...
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Hey, Fluff-
I can tell you right now, from unfortunate first-hand experience, that the psychiatric profession still does NOT know everything they need to about treating mental illness with medications. Case in point: 10 years ago, I was treated for suicidal depression with two meds, both of which had a remote danger of causing seizures. One was an old med, one was brand new...I'm sure they couldn't wait to try it out. The combination of the 2 meds caused seizures that didn't quit when the meds were stopped. I was told that the combination had probably "permanently lowered my seizure threshold", and diagnosed with adult-onset epilepsy that has yet to be controlled. Now, there's a warning to the medical community to not give those two meds together. Gosh, if only they had known that BEFORE trying the combo out on me (and possibly others)!
Mental illness would no longer exist if the medical community truly knew everything they need to know about the chemistry of brain functioning/disfunctioning.
Interestly enough, I haven't had any episodes of true depression since the seizures started and I had suffered my entire life with the problem.
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Psychologists like Freeman are occult leaders wanting people to be like themselves .and can't understand anyone else .Its interesting how these doctors think everyone should be like them .and can't understand human emotion and count it as abnormal.Freeman and other alike playing god .basically saying God made man wrong.Its the blind leading the blind.The Suffering are forgotten in institutions because they are garded by the unsympathetic .taking praises for themselves of how important they are .And others misguided away from them. The cries of thier soul and thier voices never to be heard.counted as those who failed in life.And the stupor to forever remain in rule the leaders of a systematic system of economy and self power.Psychology the religion of satan.taking the observation of peoples weaknesses which we all obtain .And according to the Daiagnostic Statistics maual ..We are all mentally ill.and the rest in their own stupor of grandiosity.Who of thier own exspression of thier own evil spirit claim to be perfect.Yet they can't feel ..and yet they think they have charachter.Laws have changed ..But they are the same minds.Now they have labotomies in a pill.and pain and suffering and tears are so alien to them. they are our oppressors.The ones who gave pain in the first place.
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From what I've read, Dr Walter Freeman helped a lot of people live better lives. It might seem a strange form of surgery- having an ice-pick or similar knocked into your brain and then moved around to destroy all the malfunctioning parts, but it did help many people.

Drugs companies, along with movies like One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, led to it going out of fashion. In an ideal world, lobotomies would still be considered an option to treat mental disorders in the long-term, along with shorter-term drug therapies.

There are a lot of people allowed out onto the streets today in Britain under "care in the community", who I'm sure would be much less likely to be problematic if they'd received a lobotomy first.
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"From what I’ve read, Dr Walter Freeman helped a lot of people live better lives. It might seem a strange form of surgery- having an ice-pick or similar knocked into your brain and then moved around to destroy all the malfunctioning parts, but it did help many people."

Gosh, Mengele would have LOVED you!
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Trepanation had little to do with demons by the time it's practice had reached the peak of it's popularity. The procedure has more to do with balancing fluid levels in the body that were altered when humans went upright. It's about the relief of pressure, not demons. Just thought you should know that there was at least a bit of science behind it.
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@Stratoblogster & Kenny - you two reek of clams, enjoy your engrams

@epilptic - I'm sorry that happened to you, but the reason for said evidence is because of trials like that, unfortunately you were the loser for everyone elses sake
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Did this author write this article in AIM? The eighth listing has a smiley face with sun careful where you type "8)" because it will can be the end of your career.
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It was once quoted to me by a wise man that he would rather go to a witch doctor rather than a psychiatrist
as the witch doctor would never say that he was a "scientist" or be "scientific" in nature and approach
This article is a testament and proof to that
It is among the biggest hoaxes of our so called modern society that we hold this community in such awe when for the most part they are doing little except what your drunken uncle or neighborhood barber used to do
Those med students who have their nose in the books for years , never traveled or lived are now telling sick people how to run their lives lol lots of luck
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I don't believe this. Is this backed up and proven? I just don't believe people would do this to other people in the form of treatment. Has anyone here validated this? What's that guy doing with the little hammer in under Lobotomy picture? This is really disgusting actually. I mean, I can understand trial and error but come one... I just have a hard time believing that legally any of this would be allowed. ...drilling into someone's head? wtf! Is any of this done today?
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I can confirm that this still happens today in the U.S. And mental illness is now a genetic trait that you can get tested for supposedly. I think this is genocide.
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Well, its quite intresting to know........ i am really unhappy with the nature...why some of us are getting Psychos,,i mean mental or the mind is not in constant..........

its good to research the cure for the disease....but we have to take feedback from those who are overcome from that disease........I pray to GOD,,to give Long life without any hurdles.............This is Starfarooq from India, Medical Transcriptionist in alll departments..........
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Live....Let to Live.......... By GOD grace, if i succeed in life that means i earn more money,,,,,my first thought is to help the persons who are to those who are unable survive in this planet...its our duty to help to all..................
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