"Humiliation of Patients"

"Humiliation of Patients"

Excerpt from "Humiliation of Patients" by Veryl E. Nilsson, Springfield State Hospital:

“A very prevalent philosophy which I find among fellow attendants can be expressed thus: ‘If you allow the patients to get away with violations of rules and orders they will lose respect for you and will soon get out of your control. You must always see to it that all orders given are strictly obeyed.’”

“…What is most important to the recovery of the patient is the re-establishment of his self esteem. But this attitude on the part of the attendant acts to destroy self esteem in the patient. How often I have seen patients humiliated in order that an attendant might win an argument or ‘maintain his position of authority!’ Let us consider specific examples: Mr. M. was sent over to the disturbed ward because he cursed the attendant in an argument as to whether he might go to a dance. He was angry but had not regressed. Mr. C. had been out playing ball and was very hot and wet. He insisted on washing himself in the washroom against a ward rule (Baths only twice a week winter or summer). This patient was agitated and probably needed to be sent to the disturbed ward but it was not necessary to humiliate him by making an issues of disobedience. Mr. X. on a disturbed ward wanted to take a bath. I had the time to attend him and allowed him to do so. Because it was not the regular time for bathing, a fellow attendant reproached me for being so easy with him and warned me that ‘You won’t be able to handle them if you let them do what they want to.’”

“I have on my ward a patient who would often be very uncooperative. It would be difficult to get him to consent to a haircut, bath, or fingernail trim. I found that a very simple way to get it done was to suggest it to him frequently, and often enough he would consent to such duties.”

“When this same attendant who insists on obedience, sees the same attitude displayed by his superiors he resents it and calls it by such names as an overbearing attitude or fear of insubordination; yet he is using the very same method on those under him.”

“We ought to be thinking of how we can help the patient to increase his self esteem rather than humiliate him at the expense of an attempt to inflate our own ego. Be firm, yes, but be considerate, and be so self-confident that you need not fear the cursing or disobedience of these very insecure persons under your care.”


--Taken from CPS Mental Hygiene Program Exchange Services. p109-110. September 1945. In "Mental Hygiene Program Exchange Service, 1944-45," folder 3/76, series IX-13-1. MCC Records Collection, Akron, PA.