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They Called It The Tranquilizing Chair, But This Thing Was Anything But Tranquil

JANUARY 9, 2016  —  By Mike Cahill  
Mike Cahill

Mike Cahill

Mike is ViralNova's resident Editor of the Weird. If it makes you say "OMG! That's terrible!!!" then Mike probably wrote it. Despite the subject of his articles Mike is surprisingly well adjusted. When he's not writing, he's making music, performing, and producing podcasts.

Throughout human history, treatment of the mentally ill has typically been terrible. Looking through old medical and psychology textbooks, you'll find that the majority of treatments for the mentally ill were barbaric at best.

And just when you thought you knew all of the horrible things that these psychologists used to do, something new surfaces.

This is an 1810 drawing of something called a "tranquilizing chair."

Getty Images

Looks brutal, right? The science behind the chair was rooted in the fact that doctors once believed that mental illness was caused by inflammation of the brain. Dr. Benjamin Rush, inventor of the tranquilizing chair, designed it specifically to control blood flow to the brain. He felt that this was the only way to treat mental illness. Of course, as you might imagine, the tranquilizing chair was quite ineffective.

Despite that, Dr. Rush is still considered by many to be the "father of American psychiatry."


Despite his brutal beliefs about mental illness, Rush was an advocate for the mentally ill in post-Revolutionary America. He led a campaign in Philadelphia to create separate facilities for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. Rush also pioneered therapeutic treatments for addiction, especially in the area of alcoholism.

But Rush was still a product of the scientific environment he lived in.


The doctor also believed that ingesting mercury and participating in intentional bleeding were effective treatments for mental illness.

I imagine that treating patients with mercury and bloodletting only made their mental conditions worse in the long run.


(via Stuff To Blow Your Mind)

I'll give credit to Rush for his compassion for the mentally ill when society had none, but mercury treatment? Seriously? That is probably the worst idea ever.

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