Water therapies, known collectively as hydrotherapy, were popular forms of treatment for insanity. Most people today have relaxed under the influence of a warm, soothing soak in a tub, but it is interesting to note that bathing for health or medical reasons was popular long before bathing as a sanitation practice became nearly universal.
Even after bathing for cleanliness was adopted, unless a family had running water, plenty of pots, a means to heat large quantities of water, plus a large enough container to sit in, bathing in a tub was either impossible or a huge undertaking. (Dedicated bathrooms piped for washing were not the norm in most homes until the 20th century.) Washing with a cloth from a basin would have met most people’s needs.
This may be one of the (many) reasons why asylum hydrotherapy was sometimes fearfully or passionately resisted by patients. Wealthy families were more familiar with immersion bathing at mineral spas and the like, but ordinary people from a crowded city or even a home in the country may have been more used to soaking their feet in a foot-bath each night, or scrubbing up once a week from a basin or small tub. It would have been intimidating to walk (or be forced) into an asylum’s hydrotherapy room with its strange-looking equipment and gushing streams of water.
My next post will look at the reality of various forms of hydrotherapy.