Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages the church was a tremendous force in most aspects of people’s lives, and this can been seen in the believed sources of mental illness as well as the treatments.

A popular philosophy during this time, which had become the basic form of psychology was interactionistic dualism, where the body was believed to be governed by the soul (Brown & Menninger, 1940).

It was believed that when someone acted in accordance with the church, it was because of their God-given soul; however, if the did not, it was believed something had happened to their soul.  In addition, negative events were attributed to the devil, whereas positive events were attributed to God.  As a result of these beliefs it is not surprising any mental abnormality believed to be result of demonic possession was considered logical.

Causes of mental illness included:

  • Supernatural causes such as demons and demonic possession.
  • Witchcraft and sorcery.
  • Mass hysteria.
  • Melancholy and stress.

Treatments for mental illness included:

  • Exorcism.
  • Shaving the pattern of a cross in the head-hair.
  • Believe that those suffering from mental illness could benefit from hearing mass.
  • Drinking ice-cold water.

When demonic possession was believed to have occurred, the first option for removing the demon was to coax it out of the possessed person.  If this was unsuccessful, the next option would be to insult the demon out.  If insulting the demon also failed, the next form of treatment would involve making the possessed individual so uncomfortable that the demon would not want to remain there (Brown & Menninger, 1940).  It would be under these circumstances where torturous treatments such as immersion in hot water, and immersion in sulphur fumes would be used.


Brown, J. F., & Menninger, K. A. (Col), (1940). The psychodynamics of abnormal behavior. (pp. 23-47). New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill Book Company, xvi, 484 pp. doi: 10.1037/11534-00

Zilboorg, G., & Henry, G. (1941).  A history of medical psychology.  New York, NY, US: W.W. Norton.

Page created by: Christy Tyrrell

16 Responses to “Middle Ages”

  1. Tyler Nimrod says:

    My programmer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on numerous websites for about a year and am worried about switching to another platform. I have heard fantastic things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this website. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appearance. I must say that you’ve done a great job with this. Also, the blog loads super fast for me on Internet explorer. Superb Blog!

  3. My programmer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on numerous websites for about a year and am anxious about switching to another platform. I have heard great things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. This is a great web page, would you be involved in doing an interview about just how you created it? If so e-mail me!

  5. I do love the way you have presented this particular matter and it really does give me some fodder for thought. However, through what I have seen, I just wish as other comments stack on that folks stay on issue and not start upon a tirade regarding some other news du jour. All the same, thank you for this exceptional point and while I do not really go along with the idea in totality, I respect the viewpoint.

  6. Floyd Packer says:

    Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  7. Gary Diamond says:

    What would you attribute this change to? I know there are various factors to be considered. Medicine and psychology have both made wide strides, but how have we as society evolved to meet these changes?

  8. guilty says:

    I am an RCMP officer stationed in western Canada.

    I have a confession to make.

    I have taken part in the abduction, rape, torture, dismemberment and disposal of many young indian girls. You may have heard of the ‘Highway of Tears’.

    I have helped Willy Pickton dispose of his victims at his Port Coquitlam pig farm. Willy was very generous with cocaine and services.

    I have taken part in rituals at various morgues and crematoriums. We target individuals. We drop tainted and concentrated fentanyl and w-18 at ‘hot spots’ in cities for the drug addicts to find and use. We wait around and observe. When they OD, we have our rituals. I cannot detail what we do there to the bodies. We have our fun. These are ‘nobodies’, that will be missed by no one.

    Those that we deliberately target are usually poor and cannot afford burial. We have our fun at the crematorium and then say goodbye with roman candles, fireworks and other incendiaries while they burn. We record it and post it to our internal servers for later laughs. It is strangely satisfying to watch, hear, and record their bodies exploding in the furnace. We stuff the fireworks in every crevice of their bodies. It is exciting every time and addicting. Trophies are usually taken. I prefer fingernails, and have made many collages of art that visitors never notice.

    I have come to the conclusion that I am mentally ill, but really I am okay with it. That is the nature of the human brain, and without variety life would be very boring.

    There is an unspoken code in our brotherhood that we can basically get away with murder. We do. Frequently. Because we know the true purpose of our national police force, and it is not for the benefit of the Canadian populace. We are and always have been under the guidance and tutelage of the European Union. Now that Canada is run by the EU, our mandate will become clear in the near future. I disagree with this. I know I seem confused due to my ‘cravings’, but I don’t agree with universal enslavement and genocide. I know people. I have family. This mandate includes them, too.

    We are all doomed, people of the world.

    We are all doomed.


  9. adrianna says:

    Im just wondering who the author of this is and when it was posted. I would love to use some info for a paper i am writing but need that info for sighting reasons. thank you

  10. YiNkAmInK says:

    why just the one letter in the name???

  11. G says:

    I think there should be more about the illnesses and then the treatments that they used to help

  12. m says:

    mental illness was also caused by injuries received during birth

  13. […] idiot and the lunatic – treatment: exorcism, purges, blood letting, whipping, drinking ice water http://mentalillness.umwblogs.org/middle-ages/ […]

  14. H says:

    I think you should have more on the kinds of treatments they used at that time.

Leave a Reply