Prolonged bath as treatment, caring, and restraint in Sweden during the first half of the twentieth century


Psychiatry Section, The Karolinska Institute and Centre for Women's Studies, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel. 46-705459404, Fax. 46-86747313


During the first half of the twentieth century prolonged bath was commonly used as a form of psychiatric care, and treatment in Sweden. This paper will analyse eight reports from nursing staff about experiences of prolonged baths and two autobiographical narratives from patients. The aim is to gain a better understanding of what it could have meant for caregivers and patients to give or to have prolonged baths. The nursing staff in this study described theie work in connection with prolonged baths as an extremely tiresome and trying duty that was delegated to inexperienced personnel. They regarded it their task to "guard" the patients who were looked upon as impossible to communicate with verbally. Prolonged baths were said to have been applied to "the most severely disturbed", violent, or untidy patients. The nurses tell about difficulties giving the baths and about the patients' discomfort and protests. But the nurses also point out the lack of alternative treatments for anxious patients and that the baths had the intended effect, which was to calm down the patients.

Prolonged baths also functioned as restraint, whereby the baths was given under mechanical or manual compulsion, or under latent threat of force, if the patient did not cooperate.The patients seemed anxious to relate to the staff and regarded the prolonged baths as a consequence of unwanted behaviour. Symbolic and psychological meanings of prolonged baths are discussed.


Panel 6B   (Prolonged Baths)
Thursday, 16 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999