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Moral Treatment

  1. Robert Shilkret

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0558

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Shilkret, R. 2010. Moral Treatment. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Mount Holyoke College

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Moral treatment (also called moral therapy) refers to the complex of ideas that came into prominence in Europe and America at the end of the eighteenth century and lasted through the nineteenth century. It maintained that madness (the eighteenth-century term) was not due to a total absence of reason. Thus, the mad were not to be seen as bestial (without reason), but rather as human (following an Enlightenment principle defining reason as human), and thus should be treated as such as much as possible. “Moral” then had the general connotations of today's “psychological”; it contrasted with “medical” therapeutics (although they were often employed together), which, through the eighteenth century, included such things as bleeding, blistering, purges, emetics, opium, and liberal use of physical restraint. In the words of Gerald Grob (1973), the dean of the history of institutional treatment of mental illness in the United States, moral treatment “meant kind, individualized care in a small hospital; resort to occupational therapy, religious exercises, amusements and games; repudiation in large measure of all threats of physical violence; and, only infrequent application of mechanical restraints. Moral treatment, in effect, involved the re-education of the patient within a proper moral atmosphere” (p. 168).


  • psychopathology;
  • history;
  • nineteenth century;
  • lunatic asylum;
  • mental hospital