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Dr. Kirkbride Father of Humane Psychology

Updated on July 1, 2014

Father of Human Treatment of Psychiatric Patients

Being a Quaker may have played a part in the fair treatment of mental health patients. Quakers are humane and tolerant of mentally impaired people as well as people who have mental health problems. They do look at it as a medical condition as opposed to some possession or spiritual affliction. They really are a forward thinking people, oddly enough. You would not think so, but they are! Dr. Kirkbride was a unique and forward thinking man with very different ideals for his day and age. He began treating mental health patients the way we treat them now, like people! He even married one! He was in the same thought frame as we are now, but the technology was just not there yet and medical science had not caught up yet!

A New Frontier in Mental Healthcare

The Kirkbride Plan!

Kirkbride buildings were developed in response to a healthy, therapeutic approach to mental health known as "moral treatment" at the end of the 19th century. These picturesque buildings, which are now seemingly frozen in time, were erected as a safe haven for the suffering population of the mentally ill. Mental health professionals finally began to realize under the direction of Thomas Story Kirkbride and other forward thinking modern psychiatrists, that a smelly dungeon wasn't going to cure anyone. Great attention went into creating a thoroughly therapeutic backdrop for patients who needed to be cured and made well and these hospitals were built with tender loving care on grounds away from the outside world. This enabled these people to get well in a safe and normal environment. Kirkbride was a pioneer, in my opinion.

Of course our favorite party, the Republicans didn't think we should spend money on mentally ill. They figured we could just thrust them into the streets where they could be homeless and unproductive without access to insurance for the medication and therapy they so desperately need. That's why you see so many people today walking the streets talking to themselves making a living as a hooker or a panhandler. Way to go Reagan!!! God bless his soul, wait, did he have one? Few of these gorgeous structures have been preserved, which I think is a tragedy.

Way to save a buck!

Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride had a huge influence on the psychiatric community. Kirkbride was a founding member of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII) -forerunner of the American Psychiatric Association-serving first as secretary, then later as president. Through this association and in his writings, Kirkbride promoted a standardized method of asylum construction and mental health treatment, popularly known as the Kirkbride Plan, which significantly influenced the entire American asylum community during his lifetime.

In Conclusion

He was loved but some, hated by many, respected by all. He fought for what he believed in and was the first notable doctor to realize you can't treat an ailing person like garbage. Somebody actually hated him enough to try and kill him. But, those who he treated had a great deal of respect for him. Dr. Kirkbride married a patient he had treated when his wife died. This goes to show he truly believed mental patients were people of true self worth, and they were sick, not crazy. He died in 1883 at the ripe age of 74. He actually lived on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane at the time of his death.

Worcester State Hospital - A Preserved Kirkbride Building in Worcester, Massachusetts

How beautiful is this building, it looks like a fairy tale castle on a hill! This is a Kirkbride Plan Hospital. Patients would have received fair, humane treatment if Dr. Kirkbride had his say inside these picturesque walls. Maybe taking mental health patients away from the world for years upon years, sometimes a lifetime isn't the right idea, but for a time until they get well, I think Dr. Kirkbride was smart in instilling this idea.

There weren't yet the types of medications needed for some of these patients to function in society. These hospitals weren't supposed to serve as prisons. They were supposed to protect patients from the outside world and the outside world from patients that didn't have proper medical care yet, because it hadn't been developed until the advent of anti-psychotics and other types of medications that help patients with severe mental illness.

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