The use of water to treat illness is a practice of great antiquity, appearing in the
works of ancient Greek and Roman physicians. It was prescribed for muscle
fatigue and similar ailments, but also for the treatment of mental derangement
arising from bodily disorders like rabies and high fevers. This exhibit explores the
development and use of hydrotherapy in the treatment of mental disorders.
Treatment by 'shock and commotion'
came early in the history of psychiatry.
A method of producing shock usque ad
deliquum, to the brink of death, was the
ducking treatment to 'suffocate the mad
Ideas' advocated by the celebrated J.
B. van Helmont (1577-1644), as
reported in this book by his son.
Helmont believed that the 'too violent
and exhorbitant Operation of the fiery
Life' required extinction with water.
Patients were suspended head first
under water until they were
unconscious, after which they were
revived, if possible, and presumably
Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont.
The spirit of disease; or, diseases
from the spirit. London: Sarah Howkins,
(To read an excerpt from this book,
click on the title page image)