The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

lobotomy brain diagram

Mental health treatment today is no walk in the park — from insurance companies denying coverage, to a lasting stigma, to the fact that the many of the most severely mentally ill among us to their own devices on the streets or relegated to prison. It’s an understatement to say that there is work left to be done. Yet, the inhumane history of mental health treatment reminds us how far we have already come.

Asylums

While terrifying mental health remedies can be traced back to prehistoric times, it’s the dawn of the asylum era in the mid-1700s that marks a period of some of the most inhumane mental health treatments. This is when asylums themselves became notorious warehouses for the mentally ill.

“The purpose of the earliest mental institutions was neither treatment nor cure, but rather the enforced segregation of inmates from society,” writes Jeffrey A. Lieberman in Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. “The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.” Continue reading The History of Inhumane Mental Health Treatments

The History of Online Therapy

rotary phone smartphone

Online therapy has many definitions. Depending on which one you use, its history has a different beginning.

Most of the people who have catalogued the history of online therapy use broader definitions. Some historians believe it began during the 1972 International Conference on Computers when Stanford and UCLA staff used linked computers to demonstrate a psychotherapy session. This wasn’t a real psychotherapy session with a licensed therapist and — unlike the modern internet — was limited to that small network of computers. It did, however, at least demonstrate the idea of online therapy.

If you include therapy via the phone as part of online therapy, the history starts even earlier. Records of the first private call between a psychotherapist and client are lost in confidentiality. Nonetheless, it is clear people were using the phone to provide mental health support as early as the 1960s. Continue reading The History of Online Therapy

The History of PTSD

soldier holding another in his arms

June is PTSD Awareness Month. To participate in raising awareness and challenging the stigma of mental illness, we are publishing several pieces that show what it means to live with PTSD.

Soldier’s heart. Shell shock. Combat exhaustion. Traumatic neurosis. Gross stress disorder. Combat fatigue. Rape trauma syndrome. Post Vietnam syndrome. It’s gone by many names, but post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been cataloged for thousands of years. In fact, descriptions of PTSD can be traced to ancient texts such as The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Soldiers from nearly every war, accident victims, and survivors of natural disasters, rape, and child abuse have exhibited the classic signs of PTSD, including reliving the event, avoidance, negative beliefs, and hyperarousal.

To best tell PTSD’s story, World Wars I and II — and particularly the Vietnam War and Women’s Movement in the 1970s — best capture the evolution of the diagnosis, treatment, and popular perception of what is now code 309.81 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: PTSD. Continue reading The History of PTSD

The History of Hysteria: Sexism in Diagnosis

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The female body has long been misunderstood. Women are often misdiagnosed by doctors, either due to the belief that they are over-dramatizing symptoms or because of a lack of adequate research on illnesses predominantly faced by women. As frustrating as this is, it’s no new phenomenon.

Dating back to 1900 BC Egypt, an ancient medical document known as the Eber Papyrus contained references to hysterical disorders thought to be caused by abnormal movements of the uterus. In the 5th Century BC, Hippocrates was the first to coin the term “hysteria” and agreed with his predecessors that this so-called condition — attributable only to women — was due to a “wandering womb,” believed to be caused by sexual inactivity. Recommended cures were, naturally, that women should increase sexual activity within the bounds of marriage. This diagnosis was not founded in science or medical research (though that may seem obvious now), but in gender bias against women and their experience of emotions and the perceived lack of sexual interest.

As currently defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hysteria is, “behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess.” An alternate, psychiatric definition is, “a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychogenic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions.” While the definition of hysteria might seem broad, it has also altered over time. While medicine and mental health have changed a great deal over the centuries, hysteria is a historically gendered diagnosis that often served as a catch-all when doctors couldn’t identify another illness. It was extremely common to find women labelled as “hysterical” defined more by their stature as women than by their symptoms. Continue reading The History of Hysteria: Sexism in Diagnosis

The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

gay man rainbow paint couch therapist

In 1965, TIME magazine published an article titled “Homosexuals Can Be Cured.” The article focused on the “triumphant” results of group therapy work led by psychiatrist Samuel Hadden, who was also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School at the time. Hadden had been leading long-term (four to eight year) therapy sessions for men who identified as homosexual in the hopes of “curing” them of their sexual “perversions.”

TIME’s article celebrated Hadden’s ability to help men work through their “symptoms” of “illness”—whether that was wearing inappropriately feminine clothing or being sexually interested in men instead of women. Hadden was only one of many esteemed psychiatrists and psychologists to consider — and treat — homosexuality as a sickness during the 1960s. In fact, homosexuality was not removed from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” [DSM] until 1973.

The pathologizing of homosexuality was not, however, contextually specific to 20th century America. Many of the earliest writings condemning homosexual acts as “unnatural” caught on in 12th century Europe, when religious leaders like Saint Thomas Aquinas denounced homosexuality as a sin in their early writings. Popular disdain against homosexuality, began in the realm of religion, but it quickly moved into the legal arena in centuries to come. Continue reading The History of LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

Dear Therapist: How Do I Change People’s Perception of Me?

Now that it’s been a while since I started therapy, I feel myself changing for the better, but I find that people’s perception of me remains the same. How do I help them see me in a different light?

– by Anonymous Talkspace User

From what I understand, the point of therapy is to come into my own, discover who I am, and figure out a way to change the less-than-awesome parts of my personality. It’s a tedious process that requires a lot of work, but I can happily report that it’s starting to pay off. The credit, however, is far from being all mine. I was paired with a very intelligent and thought provoking therapist, whom I have formed a great relationship with. Had I been paired with someone different, who knows what I’d be writing now. Continue reading Dear Therapist: How Do I Change People’s Perception of Me?