Anvil Therapy?

A recent entry in Mind Hacks cites from the book Mental Disorder in Earlier Britain an early modern “treatment” for depression that makes “water boarding” seem positively tame:

A highly specific treatment for ‘faintness of the spirits’ was attributed in a well-known passage by Martin Martin to a blacksmith in the Skye parish of Kilmartin. Like other shock treatments which have tried to elicit a ‘natural’ total reaction by creating a physical or physiological emergency, it had its risks.

The patient laid on the anvil with his face uppermost, the smith takes a big hammer in both his hands, and making his face all grimace, he approaches his patient; and then drawing his hammer from the ground as if to hit him with full strength on his forehead, he ends in a feint, else he would be sure to cure the patient of all diseases; but the smith being accustomed to the performance, has a dexterity of managing his hammer with discretion; though at the same time he must do it so as to strike terror in the patient; and this they say, has always the desired effect.

Of course, even if the depression was “cured,” you might have to deal with a new case of PTSD (but they didn’t know about that back in the 1600s).

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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