The New Treatment of the Insane in Paris
In the autumn of 1793, Philippe Pinel celebrated his appointment as doctor to Paris' main poorhouse, the Hopital General, by ordering the release of lunatics from the chains in which they were traditionally kept. This act, commemorated authoritative Traite medico-philosophique sur l'alienation mentale (1801), with its pioneering emphasis on insanity as mental illness and with its advocacy of seeking cures through 'moral methods' of treatment that minimised physical coercion.
By the turn of the century, the 'New Treatment' had already secured three outposts in the French capital at Bicetre, the men's section of the Hopital General, where Pinel was doctor from 1793 to 1795; at La Salpetriere, Bicetre's female equivalent, where Pinel served after 1795, and at the Maison Nanonale de l'Alienation Mentale, which the Directorial government had created in the Parisian suburb of Charenton in 1797 The importance of these institutions, functioning recognisably as modern lunatic asylums, for the nascent science of French psychiatry was immense. How did their emergence affect the ways in which the insane were normally treated? Did the changes introduced always signify an improvement from the point of view of the insane themselves?