The Asylum as Utopia in the Homeopathic Landscape: Innovations and Contradictions



Paola Panciroli

Abstract. Between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), known today as the founder of homeopathy, developed a new medical system which gained great success among the public. The interests of the German physician concerned not only organic diseases, but also mental illness. His experience in psychiatry, although very limited, and his enlightened position on the treatment of the insane were reworked by American homeopaths in the second half of the 19th century. Like allopathic physicians, they firmly believed in the scientific utopia of the asylum, which was going through a severe crisis, as a healing structure. Homeopaths’ attempt to reform psychiatric institutions is contextualized and analyzed on the basis of the study of the Middletown Homeopathic Hospital’s Annual Reports. From this perspective, homeopaths’ merits and innovations are highlighted, as are their efforts to create a more humane context for the cure of mentally ill patients. At the same time, this study argues that they had to face the same problems encountered by their allopathic colleagues, due to the inefficacy of their medicine and the intrinsic limits of the asylum as a healing structure.

Keywords: homeopathy, psychiatry, asylum, therapeutics, humane treatment

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