From “Introduction: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Homeopathy and Psychiatry”
Has psychiatry gone astray? It appears so, with corporate greed as the primary cause. Despite what some consider state-of-the art psychiatric treatment, rather than declining, the number of identified disabled mentally ill has tripled in this country in the last twenty years. Ever more patients with intractable and increasingly dire diagnoses requiring medication continue to appear. In turn, the need to counter the side effects of these same medications has escalated.
As Robert Whitaker shows in Anatomy of an Epidemic, simply not using psychiatric medication enables the poorest and least developed countries in the world to consistently outperform the United States across all measures with regard to short- and long-term schizophrenia outcomes. Need one doubt that a craving for market expansion propels the skyrocketing census of depressed and bipolar individuals? Or that this is the reason why healthy youngsters are suddenly earmarked for psychopharmacology’s tender mercies?
Psychiatry need not have gone down this road. In fact, for a quarter of a century throughout much of the United States, alternate and well-traveled routes for humane and effective psychiatric care existed. Whether mentally or physically ill, people flocked to homeopaths because these physicians listened to, rather than condescended to their patients. Whereas conventional physicians of that era prescribed on the basis of often dubious biological suppositions directing them to ply a patient with toxic mercury or bleed them repeatedly, their homeopathic counterparts prescribed gentle medicines attuned to the stresses and influences responsible for their patient’s symptoms. Which doctor would you have chosen?
Are the utopian homeopathic asylums of the turn of the nineteenth century a myth? One might think so based on a dearth of their mention in contemporary historical medical literature. Readers of influential texts such as Madness: An American History of Mental Illness and Its Treatment will puzzle over why author Mary de Young’s chapter on asylums declines to mention homeopathy’s numerous mental hospitals. The omission fosters a preferred reality in which the hospitals never existed. In fact, many American hospitals and medical schools had homeopathic founders and boasted countless homeopathically directed activities, mention of which has been scrubbed from most history.
I consider the information Sane Asylums presents to be a corollary to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which illuminated a wide spectrum of ancient beliefs and practices; this information, however, is only a few centuries old, as opposed to two thousand years. It was not smuggled from the caves of Qumran but secreted in wilted letters and journals; the minutes of physician organizations; bygone texts; rare offerings of publishers Forgotten Books, Kissinger Publishing L.L.C., and the Wentworth Press; and the University of Michigan Library’s digitalization of dusty archives. Still, the material will enlighten.
Medical historians accustomed to hailing French physician Philippe Pinel as the first doctor to replace brutal care of the mentally ill with psychologically oriented humanitarian (or what Pinel called “moral”) care will have to reconsider. What I am terming the “Dead Sea Scrolls of homeopathy” reveal these contemporaries must share credit. Pinel made human changes in treatment, but it was Samuel Hahnemann who pioneered homeopathic remediation in an asylum in Georgenthal, Germany in 1792.
Online searchers, unaware that shills for the pharmacology industry have commandeered the Wikipedia homeopathy page, take the website’s disparaging account as gospel truth.1 Shown otherwise they will scratch their heads. So too might visitors to the website of the American Medical Association (AMA), where an exalted account of the organization’s origins is given the lie by economist Dale Steinreich’s sordid revelation: “AMA’s initial drive to increase physician incomes was motivated by increasing competition from homeopaths. . . . In the year before AMA’s founding, the New York Journal of Medicine stated that competition with homeopathy caused ‘a large pecuniary loss’ to allopaths.”2 And in 1872, one allopath embroiled in the controversy at the University of Michigan, where a professorship in homeopathy had been established since 1855, argued that the university was “throwing discouragements in the path of the graduates in scientific medicine and rendering the struggle for existence more arduous and unremunerative.”3
Homeopathy’s popularity in the nineteenth- and early twentieth century is evident from its celebrated advocates, including luminaries William James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Daniel Webster, William Seward, Horace Greeley, Louisa May Alcott, and journalist William Cullen Bryant (who served for a time as president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York).4
There have been more than one hundred homeopathic hospitals and twenty-two homeopathic medical schools in the United States. These included forerunners of Drexel University College of Medicine (representing the legacies of two historic medical schools, Hahnemann Medical College and the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania), Boston University, Stanford University, New York Medical College, University of Michigan, and more than a thousand homeopathic pharmacies.
HOMEOPATHY AMID PANDEMICS
Amid today’s Covid 19 pandemic, historian Julian Winston’s disclosures concerning homeopathy’s effectiveness during other major epidemics are relevant. From his introduction to “Influenza-1918: Homeopathy to the Rescue” article published in 1998:
It was called “the Great White Plague.” It is hard to imagine the devastation caused by the flu epidemic of 1918-19. People who lived through it reported that someone who was up and well in the morning could be dead by evening.
Winston goes on to quote the following testimonials compiled by Dean W. A. Pearson of Philadelphia and included in a 1920 article by W. A. Dewey, M.D. entitled “Homeopathy in Influenza--A Chorus of Fifty in Harmony,” which appeared in the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy. Pearson recorded 26,795 cases of influenza treated by homeopathic physicians with a mortality of 1.05 percent, while the average mainstream medicine mortality was 30 percent.
In the transport service I had 81 cases on the way over. All recovered and were landed. Every man received homeopathic treatment. One [non-homeopathic] ship lost 31 on the way. --H. A. Roberts, M.D., Derby, Connecticut
In a plant of 8,0 workers we had only one death. The patients were not drugged to death. Gelsemium was practically the only remedy used. We used no aspirin and no vaccines. --Frank Wieland, M.D., Chicago
I did not lose a single case of influenza; my death rate in the pneumonias was 2.1%. The salicylates, including aspirin and quinine, were almost the sole standbys of the old school and it was a common thing to hear them speaking of losing 60% of their pneumonias. --Dudley A. Williams, M.D., Providence, Rhode Island
Fifteen hundred cases were reported at the Homeopathic Medical Society of the District of Columbia with but fifteen deaths. Recoveries in the National Homeopathic Hospital were 1%. --E. F. Sappington, M.D., Philadelphia
I have treated 1,0 cases of influenza. I have the records to show my work. I have no losses. Please give all credit to homeopathy! --T. A. McCann, M.D., Dayton, Ohio
One physician in a Pittsburgh hospital asked a nurse if she knew anything better than what he was doing, because he was losing many cases. “Yes, Doctor, stop aspirin and go down to a homeopathic pharmacy, and get homeopathic remedies.” The doctor replied: “But that is homeopathy.” “I know it, but the homeopathic doctors for whom I have nursed have not lost a single case.” --W. F. Edmundson, M.D., Pittsburgh
Three hundred and fifty cases and lost one, a neglected pneumonia that came to me after she had taken one hundred grains of aspirin in twenty-four hours. --Cora Smith King, M.D., Washington, D.C.
I had a package handed to me containing 1,0 aspirin tablets, which was 994 too many. I think I gave about a half dozen. I almost invariably gave Gelsemium and Bryonia. I hardly ever lost a case if I got there first, unless the patient had been sent to a drug store and bought aspirin, in which event I was likely to have a case of pneumonia on my hands. --J. P. Huff, M.D., Olive Branch, Kentucky
In reading the accounts of the epidemic it seems that most of the deaths were caused by a virulent pneumonia that was especially devastating to those who depressed their systems with analgesics, the most common being aspirin.5
THE MOTHER CHURCH:
MIDDLETOWN, NEW YORK, HOMEOPATHIC HOSPITAL
After opening its doors in 1874, New York’s Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital flourished for twenty-five years. Its third superintendent, Selden Talcott, planned and oversaw a treatment regime marrying Quaker physician Thomas Kirkbride’s moral treatment principles of compassion and respect to scientific medicine. Talcott’s methods inspired ardent disciples and similarly enlightened asylums across the country. The many failings of contemporary psychiatry and the omission of homeopathy’s successes from historical accounts entreat reconsideration--if not celebration--of Talcott’s work and legacy.
Psychiatry since 1875 has regressed. Its feckless lack of concern for the addictiveness of its drugs abetted the heedless prescribing responsible for the opioid crisis. Modern psychiatry also has limited tools for countering symptoms of present-day autism, and often includes broadly prescribed psychoactive drugs or anticonvulsants with potentially risky side effects; whereas homeopathy is able to target a specific remedy for each case that can address all the symptoms. According to the findings of Robert Whitaker the field has also midwifed a host of previously nonexistent psychiatric ailments, all while spurring exponential growth of the mentally ill. He shows how widespread use of lobotomies in the 1920s and ’30s gave way in the 1950s to electroshock and a wave of new drugs.6
Whitaker explodes a myth: that the advent of Thorazine eliminated the need for mental asylums (changes in institutional reimbursement caused that), and by referencing the profession’s own studies documents the iatrogenic harm caused by psychopharmacology: rampant mania, psychosis, hallucination, depersonalization, suicidal ideation, heart attack, stroke, and sudden death. He documents how schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world’s poorest and least developed countries, that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill recycle failed toxic and suppressive approaches, and that society’s delusion about their efficacy is continually stoked by profiteering interests. Damningly, he reveals how while refusing to disclose dangerous side effects to patients, pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s and ’90s rigged their studies so that new antipsychotic medications could appear more effective than old ones.
A 2019 study published in Psychiatry Research concluded, “A pragmatic approach to psychiatric assessment, allowing for recognition of individual experience, may therefore be a more effective way of understanding distress than maintaining commitment to a disingenuous categorical system.”7 (Italics mine)
By contrast Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital for the insane was unparalleled, a virtually self-sufficient New York utopia. Funded by the state, it was a thoughtfully designed complex of forty-seven buildings situated on bucolic grounds with more than two thousand beds. Its patients gardened, played and listened to music, practiced artistry, exercised, received occupational therapy, and participated in and watched baseball games. Compared with the barbaric physical restraints and moralistically inspired torments on tap within other asylums of the time, Middletown was a hospital where nutritious diet, compassionate caring, and sophisticated, side effect-free homeopathic prescriptions produced cures for a range of ills. Among these were supposedly intractable conditions such as dementia praecox (currently thought to be an amalgam of schizophrenia and encephalitis lethargica).
Selden Talcott was arguably the greatest psychiatrist America has (not) known. The physician Clara Barrus, who supervised the nurses, was a brilliant holistic thinker. The fruits of their labors and those of their disciples command a second look. In addition to amending the historical record, Sane Asylums presents homeopathy’s theory, scientific basis, and an account of its eclipse. Middletown’s treatments and medicines (most of which homeopaths use to this day) are brought to life. It is hoped that Sane Asylums will spur debate about the mentally ill and the critical role homeopathy can play in their care.