Vincenz Priessnitz, 1799-1851
Although hydrotherapeutic treatment for mental illness had ancient roots, it received increased
attention in the 19th century, when the water cure craze spread throughout the western world.
Developed and popularized by Vincenz Priessnitz, a peasant from Gr�fenberg in Austrian Silesia, it
promised relief from the common ills of the day. Gout, rheumatism, tuberculosis, melancholy,
indigestion were all treatable, or so it was argued, with water. Priessnitz's w
asserkur was a
combination regimen that required regular exercise, sweating, and the use of cold water immersion
and wraps.
A simple man with no medical training and only a
rudimentary education, Priessnitz based his technique on
traditional healing methods and offered neither luxury nor,
in many cases, even ordinary comfort. Yet within just a
few years of opening his
wasserkur clinic in Gr�fenberg in
1822 Priessnitz had attained a continental reputation; by
1840 he was treating 1,600 patients a year, including
Of course, because he lacked medical
training, Priessnitz kept no case records
and could therefore provide no clinical
proof of success. Yet he seems to have
had no need of proof. His fame was
spread so effectively by patient
testimonials that by the 1840s the water
cure had become a full-fledged fad.
Imitators opened up non-medical
water-cure establishments throughout
Europe, Great Britain and the United
States, so that within a very short time,
hydrotherapy became the alternative of
choice for patients seeking to augment
or avoid more orthodox medical
Joel Shew, Hydropathy; or, the water-cure. New York:
Wiley & Putnam, 1844.

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