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 January 2016 issue of Medical History is a special issue dedicated to “Tales from the Asylum. Patient Narratives and the (De)construction of Psychiatry.” The issue marks the 30th anniversary of Roy Porter’s seminal article, “The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below. A full list of article titles, authors, and abstracts follows below.
Editorial: “The Patient’s Turn Roy Porter and Psychiatry’s Tales, Thirty Years on,” by Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau and Aude Fauvel. No abstract.
“Animal Magnetism, Psychiatry and Subjective Experience in Nineteenth-Century Germany: Friedrich Krauß and his Nothschrei,” by Burkhart Brückner. The abstract reads,
Friedrich Krauß (1791–1868) is the author of Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten [Cry of Distress by a Victim of Magnetic Poisoning] (1852), which has been considered one of the most comprehensive self-narratives of madness published in the German language. In this 1018-page work Krauß documents his acute fears of ‘mesmerist’ influence and persecution, his detainment in an Antwerp asylum and his encounter with various illustrious physicians across Europe. Though in many ways comparable to other prominent nineteenth-century first-person accounts (eg. John Thomas Perceval’s 1838 Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman or Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of my Nervous Illness), Krauß’s story has received comparatively little scholarly attention. This is especially the case in the English-speaking world. In this article I reconstruct Krauß’s biography by emphasising his relationship with physicians and his under-explored stay at the asylum. I then investigate the ways in which Krauß appropriated nascent theories about ‘animal magnetism’ to cope with his disturbing experiences. Finally, I address Krauß’s recently discovered calligraphic oeuvre, which bears traces of his typical fears all the while showcasing his artistic skills. By moving away from the predominantly clinical perspective that has characterised earlier studies, this article reveals how Friedrich Krauß sought to make sense of his experience by selectively appropriating both orthodox and non-orthodox forms of medical knowledge. In so doing, it highlights the mutual interaction of discourses ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ as well as the influence of broader cultural forces on conceptions of self and illness during that seminal period.
“‘No “Sane” Person Would Have Any Idea’: Patients’ Involvement in Late Nineteenth-century British Asylum Psychiatry,” by Sarah Chaney. The abstract reads, Continue reading Special Issue: “Tales from the Asylum. Patient Narratives and the (De)construction of Psychiatry”
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.
You can find the full article here. The History of Science Society Newsletter article on “Lusty ladies or Victorian victims” can be found here.