10 Shocking Psychiatric Treatments Doctors Have Actually Used

The field of psychiatry isn’t an exact science. It’s hard to tell exactly how to help someone who is having mental problems because there can be all kinds of factors contributing to the issue. This has led to some people thinking that there is no fix for some problems. It has also led to some rather horrific treatments every now and then. Luckily most of the truly terrible treatments have since gone by the wayside but that doesn’t make the fact that they were once considered to be the norm. Check out these 10 shocking psychiatric treatments doctors have actually used and let us know what you think.


In the 19th century, women were often diagnosed with a disorder called hysteria. The most common symptom of this was thought to be horniness and so doctors of time would actually get their female patients to orgasm. This is how vibrators were first born.

Bleeding and Purging

Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, thought almost all human ailments – including mental illness – resulted from out-of-balance bodily substances, such as blood, bile and phlegm. In the 1600s, English physician Thomas Willis determined the best way to correct such imbalances, or melancholy blood, was by bleeding, purging and even vomiting. The bleeding part was done either by cutting or by using leeches.

Snake Pits

During the Middle Ages, if an exorcism failed to cure the subject of his or her symptoms of demonic “possession,” a person might be held over a pit of poisonous snakes so that the “evil spirits” might be scared out of the body. The theory didn’t leave with the middle ages. Attempting to scare a patient to sanity was used even into the 20th century.


If the snake pit didn’t work for mental patients, there was a period of time when people would call the church in order to carry out a full-scale exorcism with priests and everything.


This procedure was developed by Portuguese doctor Egas Moniz. Moniz believed that mental illnesses were caused by problems in the neurons of the brain’s frontal lobe, the lobotomy basically removed all or part of the lobe through surgery. Before people realized just how horrible jabbing a sharp object into someone’s brain was, Moniz was actually awarded the Nobel Prize.


The use of water to treat physical ailments is not a new concept, as warm baths have proven quite useful in alleviating or temporarily treating agitated, manic or insomniac patients. However, some medical professionals took hydrotherapy to near-tortuous levels. Oftentimes patients would be mummified in towels soaked in ice-cold water, while others could be submerged in baths for hours or days. Additionally, as seen in the picture above, reports of at least one patient being held in a crucifixion position and blasted with water from a fire hose have been documented.


One of the earliest forms of mental health treatment, trepanation was based on the belief that insanity is caused by demons or evil spirits residing inside the skull. By boring a hole in the patient’s skull, doctors could open a door through which the demons could escape

Electricity and Seizures

While electroshock therapy is now considered a treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, it got its start with a darker use. Doctors used to think that inducing seizures would help with a number of problems. Doctors would actually try and get patients to go into seizures using electricity.


Before LSD was an illegal drug, it was actually considered a pretty good treatment for a number of mental disorders. Many doctors believed LSD could help patients “unblock” repressed memories, as well as treat alcoholism.


The Clitoridectomy was based on the theory that sexual urges in women led to mental illness. The treatment saw physicians treat patients with forced circumcision of their clitoris. Sometimes the women went through this procedure if they tried to leave their husbands.