Most peopleare surprised to find that treatment of mental illness using moral treatment was very effective 150 years ago. This fact is no secret among mental health professionals, but it is not widely discussed among the laity. When moral treatment is mentioned even in textbooks, it is looked upon as a prescientific curiosity in the history of therapy, and its recovery rates are seldom compared to those of contemporary therapies. It is the forgotten success in the history of treating the disturbed. Christians were highly involved in the development and use of moral treatment, but abandoned it when everyone else did.

Moral treatment began at the end of the eighteenth century with the French physician Philippe Pinel, who held the radical view that the “insane” should be treated with kindness and consideration rather than as animals or criminals. In 1793 he received permission to unchain the patients at his hospital. He moved people out of dungeons, permitted exercise, and treated the patients with kindness. The effect was astounding. Noise, filth, and abuse were replaced by order and peace. People began to recover and leave the hospital.

At about the same time an English Quaker, William Tuke, established the “York Retreat,” a pleasant place where patients lived in a kindly, religious atmosphere. Tuke also faced resistance, some of it from the church. As word of Pinel’s success spread to England, Tuke’s small band of Quakers gradually gained support. Success in France and England revolutionized treatment of the maladjusted throughout the civilized world, including the United States. Friends Asylum was built in Pennsylvania by the Quakers.

American society of the early nineteenth century was an ideal place for the development of ...

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