The U.S. Had 9 Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospitals
Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospitals existed in the United States from 1874 through the late 1920’s. The first homeopathic psychiatric hospital was Middletown State Hospital, New York which opened its doors April 20, 1874. Middletown State Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospital was built on a 250 acre parcel of farmland. The hospital was not just a hospital but was a busy farm that provided organic food to the patients, as well as relaxation and recreation. Gowanda Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospital, located in Collins, Erie County, New York opened its doors in 1898. There were 9 homeopathic psychiatric hospitals throughout the United States across 7 of the states, that all ran similar to Middletown. The last homeopathic psychiatric hospital to open its doors on October 3rd, 1912 was Allentown Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane located in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Middletown State Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospital
The public records of Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital, New York are still available and the way that these hospitals operated was so primitive and absolutely remarkable. For many centuries it was believed that mental illness was a possession of the devil or evil spirits, which then justified the mistreatment of the mentally ill. The 18th century was the worst in history for the treatment of the mentally ill, which included prolonged physical and mental torture (4). In the 19th century, psychiatric patients were being treated with harsh restraints, bloodletting, purgatives and emetics (4) as well as the use of opiates, bromides or chloral hydrate (6). The homeopathic psychiatric hospitals were all about gentle and humane treatment, which was a very progressive step in the treatment of the mentally ill.
The Middletown Homeopathic Hospital operated on the following treatment model:
- Kindness and gentle discipline
- Rest as a means for physical and mental recuperation
- Bathing and Massage
- Enforced Protection
- Artificial Feeding
- Exercise, Amusement and Occupation
- Moral Hygiene
- Homeopathic Medicine
Psychiatric Patients Treated With Kindness and Gentle Discipline
Going over the records of Middletown, this treatment model was implemented throughout the hospital and the kitchen staff, nurses and doctors were thoroughly trained in following this approach. All the patients who entered the hospital were treated with kindness and gentle discipline. Nurses spoke kindly to the patients and treated them with respect. When restraints had to be used in cases of violence or destructiveness, cloth restraint sheets were used for body, bands and mittens. It was never used as intimidation or punishment only to protect the patient or others (8). This was in a time where restraints of leather, iron and wood were being used in allopathic psychiatric hospitals.
Rest As Priority for Those with Mental Illness
Most often when a patient first arrived they would stay in their room a few days or weeks and be encouraged to rest until they were ready to participate in activities around the hospital. If a patient was sleepless which, is often the case in mania or psychosis, they would give homeopathic medicine to induce sleep and give hot milk. The allopathic hospitals of that time were using morphine to induce sleep, but the homeopathic hospital believed in the mild measures of homeopathic medicine (7). Those who were on bed rest would have their meals brought to them and contained a lot of soups and broth to get in a lot of nourishment (1). Resting was seen as important so that the patient could recover physically and mentally. There was no time limit on how much rest they would be permitted as there was also no time limit on the hospital stay. Patients could take all the time they needed to recover whether that be weeks, months or years. As the medical superindendent, Dr Seldon Talcott Haines wrote, “Regeneration must be, we believe from a lofty and spiritual nature; not according to any arbritrary creed” (8).
To help with relaxation they were allowed to have baths and the nurses would massage the patients with coconut oil and homeopathic hypericum which if you know, homeopathic hypericum helps to calm the nerves. They were encouraged to spend time outside on the hospital’s 250 acres of land getting exercise and soaking in the health giving properties of sunlight and fresh air (8).
Food as Nourishment
All patients received a proper and organic diet as they knew that food was important for the patient’s recovery. For those who refused food they were either given soups and broth or otherwise tube fed (1). The hospital acknowledged that disease is the result of imperfect nutrition or malassimilation so put a very large focus on nourishing food (8). The hospital had farm animals such as chickens, cows and pigs which was used for their eggs, dairy and meat. They had gardens which grew mass amounts of over twenty-three different fruits and vegetables from asparagus, beans, beets, cabbage, currants, grapes, raspberries, pears, to corn, radishes and turnips. They had their own apple trees and made their own cider (8). They also canned and pickled over 21 fruits and veggies including making grape jellies, pickles, canning tomatoes, peaches, pears and much more. They had fields of straw, corn, oats and hay from which they fed their animals (8).
Flowers to Liven up the Grounds and Psychiatric Wards
Not only did they grow veggies, but they planted 25,000 plants on the hospital grounds. So the hospital grounds looked spectacular. The flowers they grew included chrysanthemums, lilies, violets, carnations and roses which they also used as fresh cut flowers to decorate the wards. You can see that so much thought, time and effort was put into this hospital and the patients to make them feel at home and help them in their recovery. That down to the detail of flowers to decorate the wards was seen as important for the patients’ recovery (8).
Exercise and Occupation for Mental Wellness
Once patients were well rested they were able to participate in light exercise, entertainment and occupation. The grounds were available for walking and soaking in the sunshine. Patients who were well enough, would be able to help out on the farm, in the gardens, in the kitchen, cleaning, ironing, laundry and other chores suitable to their abilities. Patients were put to work as part of their recovery. It not only helped the hospital staff with much needed chores to be done, but helped the patients’ to feel useful and gave them a sense of purpose (8).
Entertainment to Aid in Recovery
The hospital was a happening place, with staff organizing regular activities to entertain the patients. They believed that diverting them with entertainment would take their mind off of their sickness and aid in recovery. As the saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine”. They held weekly dances, brought in concert bands, magicians, musical performances and readings, plays and acrobatic performances. They always had games available for the patients to play which included cards, checkers, dominoes, halma, billiards and pool. They would often hold games nights. And they were sure to celebrate all the key holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Patients were able to go outside and enjoy the beautiful hospital grounds. The farm had horses and patients could be taken out horseback riding. Other entertainment included croquet and lawn tennis as well as they were famous for baseball (8). In fact nine asylum patients, who joined the baseball team while a patient at the hospital, ended up going to the state leagues.
Homeopathic Medicine for Psychiatric Patients
The Middletown Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospital relied on the curative value of carefully selected and administered homeopathic remedies. Patients were treated according to homeopathic principles which entailed examining the patient as to their mental state and the physical condition of the entire body. Upon arrival of each patient, they were carefully examined and a questionnaire was done by the doctors as to the patient’s history, childhood history, and family history, past diseases, addictions, character, and history of mental condition. Then a record of their height and weight measurements, pulse and respiration, eye and knee reflex tests, temperature tests were taken and recorded. A physical observation of tongue, eye colour, hair colour, and any other pertinent details were taken into account for homeopathic prescribing. Tests of sight, hearing, taste, smell, test of motor functions were all done. The patient was asked questions about digestive health and excretions, their behaviour, fears, delusions, their impulses, desires, attention span, conditions of sleep and appetite. The patient had a complete physical examination because in homeopathy the presence of physical ailments is not seen as separate from the accompanying mental state (8). When they had a good homeopathic prescription to treat any physical ailments, it would have favourable results on their mental state as well (3). In homeopathy details are important to be able to treat the individual case. They would also ask about any stressful life situation or exciting causes for the mental illness. As they recognised that mental illness can be triggered by things such as a shock, childbirth, disappointed love, over work and worry, over study, trauma and physical disease (2). Each case treated according to the individual symptoms and causes. And the patients were observed and questioned for direction to the next homeopathic medicine that would bring about physical recuperation and growth and consequently the return of mental health. As treating people homeopathically is all about peeling back the layers throughout the treatment process. One homeopathic medicine will do its work and then the patients’ symptoms or experience will indicate for the next prescription. Each case got individualized care as homeopathy is focused on treating the person, not the disease label. Each case required time and reflection to understand and a profoundly sympathetic and intelligent person to treat (8). As you can see, treating one homeopathically is not a standard approach but very individual so requires careful observation, questioning and examination of the patient in much detail.
The Success of Homeopathic Psychiatric Hospitals
There was a lot of success with treating psychiatric patients with homeopathy. Patients left this hospital cured or well enough to be discharged. Some stayed for weeks, months or even years. Some patients never left the hospital. At the time the homeopathic psychiatric hospitals existed they believed that dementia was a mental illness (8). So when we look at statistics of the hospital we need to keep in mind that dementia patients were classed as having a mental illness. Statistics of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital show that many patients who were treated for psychiatric illnesses were discharged as recovered. Table 23 of the Middletown 25th Annual Report (below) shows that the average percentage of patients discharged as recovered over a 21 year period from 1874-1895 was 36.45%. The same chart demonstrates that the rate of recovery was even higher for patients who were admitted within six months of developing the symptoms of mental illness. Those who sought treatment within six months of getting symptoms had an average recovery rate of 50.06%, whereas those who had their mental illness for more than five years had lower average recovery rate at 7.97% (8).
Biomedicine vs Homeopathy
We can see the great success of the homeopathic psychiatric hospitals from looking at the statistics that Middletown kept. The Middletown State Hospital continued to operate as a Psychiatric hospital until 2006, but the homeopathic treatment method stopped sometime in the late 1920’s. Homeopathic treatment was not stopped because it did not work but because the American Medical Association (AMA) along with the Carnegie Foundation became a driving force of determining who and how medicine could be practiced. Between the 1900’s and 1930’s North America started to see the influence of German based scientific research education. The emphasis became on studying science and understanding disease by laboratory research, quantifiable data and finding pathology. The focus became on seeing disease as malfunctioned body parts rather than treating the whole person. The AMA requested that the Carnegie Foundation conduct an independent study to classify all the medical schools in North America. Abraham Flexnor, science administrator and politician, who was a graduate of John Hopkins University in Natural Sciences, was set out by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, to visit all the medical schools. Flexner reports in his autobiography that he visited 155 schools in the United States and Canada, and at each stop, within a few hours, obtained a reliable estimate respecting the possibilities of teaching modern medicine. His interviews with the medical schools asked about entrance requirements, size and training of faculty, budget, laboratory training offered, and the relationship between the medical school and affiliated hospitals. Favour was put on the schools that taught the new biomedical paradigm of disease, which had a laboratory and had an affiliated hospital. The science-based faculties claimed themselves that they had a better understanding of pathophysiology, pharmacology, and treatment options than any other institutions. It was very bias, as Flexnor also openly admitted he had it out for the “non-scientific” approaches such as psychologists, naturopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors and osteopaths. The result of the Flexnor Report of 1910, was the forced closure of nearly 80% of the programs in homeopathy, naturopathy, eclectic therapy, physical therapy, osteopathy and chiropractic. Those that were able to comply or implement the education requirements were able to remain open (9). The Flexnor report of 1910 is what changed the fate of the homeopathic medical schools and homeopathic hospitals in the United States. The last homeopathic hospitals were believed to be closed down by 1930. Despite this, homeopathy has continued to flourish in North America over the years and continues to be a popular treatment choice.
- Ashley, Maurice, C. Dietics for the Insane. Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital at Middletown New York. Pg 111 – 125. New York Legislature, February 1896. New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. State Printers, 1896. Print.
- Barrus, Clara. Insanity in Young Women. Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital at Middletown New York. Pg 126-149. New York Legislature, February 1896. New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. State Printers, 1896. Print.
- Bergmann, Murray. Application of Homeopathic Principles in the Treatment of Mental States. The journal of American Institute of Homeopathy. Volume 1935 Sept Vol XXVIII No 9
- Deutsch, Albert. The mentally ill in America: A History of Their Care and Treatment From Colonial Times. 2nd New York: Columbia University Press, 1967. Print
- Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital . (1891, April 19). The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2023 from Social Welfare History Project Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital: New York – 1891 (vcu.edu)
- Stiles, H.R. “Homeopathic Treatment of Insanity Cases.” Transactions of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York, 1875. New York: n.p.,n.d. Encyclopedia Homeopathica
- Talcott, Seldon Haines. Mental Diseases and Their Modern Treatment. New York: Boericke & Runyon Co., 1901. Print
- Talcott, Seldon Haines. “Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital at Middletown New York.” New York Legislature, February 1896. New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. State Printers, 1896. Print.
- Tauber, A.I. The Two Faces of Medical Education: Flexnor and Osler revisited. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Volume 85. October 1992. Retrieved from: https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC1293684&blobtype=pdf. Nov 10, 2023