Five Outdated Psychological Treatments That Will Make You Appreciate The 21st Century

Medical books of the past can be the things of nightmares.  Traditional psychological treatments from the early history of the US were performed by barbers with no medical training at all.  Eventually, doctors were trained and licensed and sought out.  As the science of psychiatry emerged, there were many procedures that seemed to be doing some good at the time, but now would be considered barbaric and cause of alarm.  If you have been thinking about getting psychiatric help and have been holding back because of fear, consider these treatments.  Nothing you will experience during your psychological treatment will be half as medically challenging as these treatments were in decades past.


Doctors from the early 20th century took the idea of a relaxing bath and built a mental illness treatment off of it.  Some treatments involved wrapping patients in either very hot or very cold, wet towels.  Others received sprays from high powered jets of water.  One psychological treatment that was widely accepted was for patients to be strapped for hours or days into a bathtub and only let out to use the bathroom.

An example of this kind of treatment can be seen in A Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn.  She is asked to be the assistant to the nun in charge of overseeing a room full of screaming women who are locked into bathtubs with only their heads out.  Now, thankfully, hydrotherapy conjures up images of warm saltwater baths, rejuvenating spa treatments, and isolation tanks for stimulating the brain rather than the painful experiences of the hydrotherapy of the past.

Insulin-Coma Therapy

Diabetics all over the world cringe at the idea that slipping into an insulin coma is ever a good idea.  In 1927, a Viennese physician, Manfred Sakel, accidentally put a patient who was also a drug addict into a coma.  When she awoke, she claimed that her morphine cravings were gone. Sakel made another mistake and did the same thing by putting a patient into a coma.  And, the results were the same.  So Sakel began doing it on purpose.  He reported a 90% success rate and was particularly successful in working with schizophrenics in this way.  There was never a good scientific reason for all of this wellness that happened while patients were in a coma.  The treatment eventually was given up because it is incredibly dangerous.  It was hard on the body and had a 2% mortality rate.


Trepanation or the practice boring a hole in the skull has been going on for centuries.  One of the earliest versions of this treatment was to release demons. Early man had beliefs that these demons were plaguing the mentally ill.  Despite the potential for infection and the lack of anesthesia, this practice was at use in cultures all over the globe.  While it is phasing out as a general medical practice, there are still organizations that exist today that advocate the practice of trepanation.


A creation of Egas Moniz, a Portuguese doctor, lobotomies are cuts into the frontal lobe of the brain just behind the forehead.  Moniz believed that problems with the frontal lobe neurons were the cause of mental illness.  Moniz reported great success with his techniques.  He won a Nobel Prize in 1949 and began traveling the US to perform his procedures for anyone who was willing.  As more and more people were getting lobotomies, there was a reduction in psychotic symptoms. However, most of their responses to the world were not present anymore.  With the negative press that these kinds of results yielded, the practice soon fell out of favor.

Malaria Therapy

While not a treatment for mental illness, malaria therapy really does bear a mention.  Malaria therapy was the creation of Wagner von Jauregg a Viennese neurologist in the early 1900s. Then, it was a treatment for syphilis.  At the time, there was no treatment for syphilis.  It was a death sentence.  Von Jauregg introduced malaria-infected blood into the body of the syphilis sufferer.  This gave the sufferer malaria and the very high fever that comes with it.  The high fever kills off syphilis and then the patient can get a treatment of quinine to cure malaria.  While this psychological treatment did come with some side effects, it was fairly effective.  Von Jauregg won a Nobel Prize and his treatment was the standard for treating syphilis until penicillin came along in the 1930s.

Five Psychological Treatments You Will Be Glad Are Outdated

Learn more about some psychological treatments that are helpful today. And, those that are available here at Delray Center for Healing right from our website.