Common Treatments

Various Treatments for the Mentally Ill in the Renaissance:

  • Converting humors into vapors following the idea of balancing the amount of black bile in a person (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Confinement (Dickinson, 1990)
  • Special diets (Grob, 1985)
  • Interpretation of dreams (Mora, 1992)
  • Incubation in holy temples (Mora, 1992)
  • Pastoral counseling (Mora, 1992)
  • Bodily punishments and harm  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Physical tortures, such as cold baths  (de Chavez, 2009; Dickinson, 1990; Grob, 1985)
  • Instilling terror and horror, such as holding one’s head under the water until they came close to drowning in order to suffocate their crazy ideas  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Exhaustion through various tasks such as placing them on rotating machines and wheels  (de Chavez, 2009; Dickinson, 1990)
  • Use of Tranquillisers: A chair that was used to physically restrain a patient to the point of chaining their limbs and placing a hood over their heads in order to prevent movement (Dickinson, 1990)
  • Facial masks in order to silence them  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Electric Shocks  (de Chavez, 2009; Dickinson, 1990)
  • Blood transfusions with animals in order to renew the humors  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Rubbing the body with rough ointments  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Incisions in the head to allow the evil spirit to escape  (de Chavez, 2009)
  • Immobilizing devices (Dickinson, 1990)
  • Use of narcotics: Opium, Laudanum and Morphia (sleeping), laxatives, saline (emetics), various tonics (Dickinson, 1990; Grob, 1985).

A modern-day version of an electrical shock machine that was used in China.


de Chavez, M. G. (2009).  Treatment of psychoses before the twentieth century. In Y. O. Alanen, G. dC. Manual, A. S. Silber, & B. Martindale (Eds.)  Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Schizophrenia Psychoses: Past, Present, and Future, (pp. 10-22).  New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.

Dickinson, E. (1990). From madness to mental health: A brief history of psychiatric treatments in the UK from 1800 to the present. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 53, 419-424.

Grob, G. N. (1985). The transformation of the mental hospital in the United States. American Behavioral Scientist, 28, 639-654.

Mora, G. (1992). Stigma during the medieval and Renaissance periods. In P. J. Fink & A. Tasman (Eds.) Stigma and mental illness, (pp. 41-57). Washington, D.C., US: American Psychiatric Association.

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