“Soldiers in Psychiatric Therapy”

In the latest issue of Social History of Medicine, Nafsika Thalassis discusses the psychiatric therapeutics of Northfield military psychiatric hospital (Birmingham, UK) and suggests that treatment in Northfield was characterised by ideals of citizenship typical of the period.

The two Northfield experiments, for which Northfield has become famous, glorified the group as a social unit and promoted adaptation to the needs and values of society as the route to mental health. In the context of the Second World War, such adaptation meant accepting the duties of a soldier. In the published writings regarding the first Northfield experiment, the psychiatrist Wilfred Bion emphasised his military role in returning patients to their units, a job which he thought was best conducted by men like himself who had experience of leading men into battle. Writing about the second experiment, Tom Main emphasised the importance of including military staff in every aspect of the hospital life from therapy to administration. Some Northfield psychiatrists were less content with this strongly military approach and this led to the conflict which ended the first experiment and continued to spark disagreements throughout the hospital’s existence.

Note: AHP has previously posted on this topic. In our discussion of the discovery that 126,000 military contractors in Iraq will not receive psychiatric care, we also included a short bibliography of histories of PTSD.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.