The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has just aired a piece on the controversial history of Oak Ridge, the forensic mental health division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ontario. (The Oak Ridge building officially closed in 2014, but Waypoint continues to house Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital.) “The Secrets of Oak Ridge” aired March 1st, 2016 as part of the CBC’s national news program The National and is described simply as: “Allegations of treatment with LSD, sleep deprivation, torture. The painful legacy of an Ontario psychiatric facility. Reg Sherren reports.”
The 15-minute piece, driven by the narrative of one man’s experiences in the institution in the 1970s, describes some of the treatment practices at the institution at this time and questions the ethics of those involved. A provocative indictment of the institution and its doctors, the segment unfortunately lacks any counterpoint regarding the ethics of the therapeutic practices employed at the hospital. Absent any discussion of the greater context of psychiatry at this time, the treatment of patients at Oak Ridge is presented as unequivocally cruel, unusual, and unethical. This is certainly the experience of the former patient featured in “The Secrets of Oak Ridge.”
And from our present-day vantage point we may well feel similarly. Taking the context of 1960s and 70s psychiatry into account, however, the ethics, or lack thereof, of the program are less clearcut. At the time, Oak Ridge’s use of LSD and other psychopharmaceuticals – alongside other therapies – was seen as a positive form of treatment and a promising advance in the field. Where the CBC segment is most successful is in presenting the patient’s voice, as he recounts his experiences at the hospital. Respecting this patient’s experience, while putting that experience into historical context is a fine balancing act, one, unfortunately, “The Secrets of Oak Ridge” does not attempt. Contextualizing these treatment practices does not mean invalidating the experiences of this or any other patient, but it is necessary for a more complete understanding of what transpired at this hospital in this moment in time.
As we’ve reported previously on AHP, the recently launched Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit produced by former AHP contributor Jennifer Bazar, is an excellent and under-utilized source for this much needed information. Details and fuller context for the social therapy program discussed in the CBC segment can be found on this page of the site. (It should also be noted that a class action lawsuit against the hospital and the program’s doctors, on behalf several patients, is as yet undecided.)
The February 2014 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology is now online. Included in this month’s Time Capsule section is a piece by Jennifer Bazar and Jeremy Burman on what in retrospect may seem an odd practice: nineteenth century asylum tourism. As Bazar and Burman describe,
Alongside mentions of monuments, churches and historical sites, a 19th-century tourist in New York might have found this recommendation in his or her guidebook: Visit the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan (on the grounds of what is now Columbia University).
“The approach to the Asylum from the southern entrance … is highly pleasing,” reads the 1880 guide “Miller’s New York As It Is.” The author continues, “The sudden opening of the view, the extent of the grounds, the various avenues gracefully winding through so large a lawn. … The central building … is always open to visitors, and the view from the top of it being the most extensive and beautiful of any in the vicinity of the city, is well worthy of their attention” (Miller, 1880, p. 46-47).
Recommending a visit to a mental hospital might seem surprising to modern readers, but this was not unusual at the time. In fact, the “asylum tourism” of the late 1800s was less voyeuristic than its earlier incarnations. The patients — sometimes including the powerless wives of jealous or bored aristocrats — had often been treated like animals, housed in institutions that were little more than human zoos. (It cost only a shilling to see “the beasts” rave at Bedlam, as the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, England, was then known.)
The full article can be read online here.
Occasional AHP contributor, and York University History and Theory of Psychology doctoral candidate Jennifer Bazar, has just released three short videos on the history of psychology on YouTube. The videos, each approximately 5 minutes long, explore the psychology exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (above), the history of the psychology laboratory at Wellesley College (below), and introspection (bottom), respectively. While great on their own, the videos are also fantastic resources for those teaching the history of psychology!
The Time Capsule section of December issue of the APA Monitor on Psychology features a piece on the history of female madness, which highlights patient voices in nineteenth century debates over sexual surgeries. The article, authored by Laura Ball and Jennifer Bazar (far right and far left), is based in part on a presentation they were part of at APA’s 2009 Annual Convention: “Lusty ladies or Victorian victims: Perspectives on women, madness and sexuality” (see AHP’s previous post on the presentation here). In the article, Ball and Bazar contend that,
To gain insight into why patients selected one treatment over another, a number of factors need to be considered, including the relationship between patients and their physicians during the 19th century; the status of medicine and related professions; the role of politics, the law and shifting societal norms; the influence of friends or family; and the intersections of gender, race, class and other social categories on patient decision-making. This process was very individual and certainly varied depending on which combination of factors influenced the particular person most.
The most recent newsletter of The Society for General Psychology (Division 1 of the American Psychological Association) features a short article dispelling some of the common myths surrounding asylum history. Authored by Jennifer Bazar, a graduate student in the History and Theory of psychology program at York University, the piece addresses the follow three myths of asylum history:
Myth 1: Men were institutionalized more frequently than women [I have also heard the reverse].
Myth 2: Asylums were “dumping grounds” or “warehouses” for those labelled as insane (and the poor, the feeble-minded, etc).
Myth 3: Electro-shock (today: electro-convulsive therapy) was a popular form of treatment.
Bazar also chronicles her asylum research on her blog Field Notes.
The full Society for General Psychology newsletter, including “Asylum History Myth-Busting” (p. 34-35), can be downloaded here.