10 of the Worst Psychiatric Treatments in History

Psychiatry is the medical field with the worst reputation. Psychiatric treatments were one of the most deadly, inaccurate and strange in history of medicine. It is only 50 years since the last lobotomies were performed and up to this day the electroshock therapy is still used. This is a prove that psychiatry is a field which  is not yet fully developed and the disorders of the brain remain in many ways, mysterious . Here are the 10 worst psychiatric treatments in history:

1.  Removing body organs to treat mental illnesses


Dr. Henry Cotton was a psychiatrist who was most probably even more lunatic than his patients. According to his belief, mental disorders were actually caused by infections. Hence, the cure was simply removing the infected part of the body. In his horror psychiatric hospital, he tortured this way countless patients, at the beginning of the 20th century. He removed the patient’s teeth, one by one, then, since the patient’s mental problem was still present (doh) he did not mind sacrificing different organs of the poor guy. Only 50 % of the sick survived this method of treatment. For the amateurs of this type of stories, the book in the picture above is focused on Henry Cotton and his career.

2. Trepanation


Trepanation is as old as the human being. Even the primitive humans used it as a method of curing anything related to the head, from headaches to wounds. It implied creating a whole in a man’s skull ’in order to try to discover what was wrong with him. Of course, the so called surgery was many times deadly. It was also practiced in the 17th century in Europe.

3. Lobotomy


This is one of the worst medical procedures ever invented and stands on the same place as the two above, as what concerns awfulness. Edgar Moniz came to the dumb conclusion that mental problems have their source in the frontal lobe. Thus, he woke up one day and decided to try that on his violent patients. His theory was that the procedure will only cure the disorder, leaving the patients calm and ready to take their lives back. Unfortunately, he was terribly wrong as the patients remained incapacitated for life. Even more tragic, this “side effect” was only discover later on, when numerous patients had already received this treatment, which was really successful and found many followers for a while.

4. The electroshock treatment

One of the worst psychiatric treatments ever, the electroshock was first used as a treatment by an Italian doctor, one year before the beginning of World War I. The so -called patient (more of a victim actually) experienced up to 400 volts passing through his brain and could develop amnesia, as well as  permanent damage of the brain. However, up to this day, there are psychiatrists who refuse to admit these side-effects and electroshock is still used as treatment, with the consent of the patient or of an appointed tutor.

5. The Metrazol treatment


Another doctor who tried to achieve glory by inventing a revolutionary treatment for mental disorders was the Hungarian psychiatrist Ladislas von Meduna. His attempt was that of calming schizophrenics by using some substances that would cause them seizures. After experiencing with several rather weird ones, he finally stopped at Metrazol. Meduna’s treatment was controversial in the medical world and fortunately, was not used for long.

6.  Induced Coma


How about “coma” as a therapy? Well, it does help the patient calm down…right? This is what Doctor Manfred Sekel must have thought when he first tested this therapy on a patient who was drug addict. He gave the woman a huge dose of insulin, which naturally, caused her to enter coma. When she woke up, she declared herself miraculously cured, which brought the crazy doctor fame and respect. For a while, the treatment was applied on numerous mentally ill patients, but it was stopped when it was revealed that some of these people had the strange tendency of dying because of the insulin overdose. Really, now, who would have thought that coma could be so dangerous?! Geez…

7. Hydroteraphy


A nice, warm, bath seems a good idea, but not the kind of bath these guys thought about:. Their so-called baths seemed more like torture sessions in a prisoner’s camp. Doctors believed that high pressure showers or baths that would last for days could have a great effect on the lethargic or on the agressive patients.

8. The Rotational therapy


This therapy tried to cure patients by spinning them around. While it was not dangerous for the patient , it was not helpful either so the treatment was soon forgotten. What is still worth mentioning is that it was first developed by Charles Darwin’s grandfather.

9. The treatment for hysteria


Since ancient times hysteria was associated with women. While Hippocrates believed that it was caused by a “moving uterus” that could obstruct the respiratory system, and recommended marriage and children as a way of making the uterus return to its place, 20th century therapy was even worse, as it proposed oophorectomy (the removal of the ovaries) in order to treat this mental disorder.  Removal of ovaries is the feminine equivalent for castration and that should say it all.

10. “Mesmerising” the patients

franz mesmer

Even though crazy, the treatment of Frantz Mesmer was at least harmless. He believed that some magnets placed on the body would counter the effects of the Moon’s gravity on the human body, which was to blame for mental illnesses. He had a complicated theory to explain all this madness, but the point is that he was believed by many people, who later declared themselves cured and happy about it. The treatment was finally discredited, but Mesmer became famous in another way, meaning, as the father of psychology, because he used the placebo effect in his treatments, though I don’t  believe that he was aware of it.



Guerilla Science, Pcs Blog, Psychosurgery

photo credits:

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  1. Barbz Nz says

    Modern ECT is different than in the old days, it is done under aenesthic and muscle relaxant, I had it in the late 90’s and it was very helpful. it is the only treatment I have heard staff say they would have. it is really effective for people when medication doesn’t work.
    The thought of it turns me cold, but given the same circumstances, I would have it again. The fact that I am still alive is testamount to that.

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