Vomiting, Exorcism, And Drilling Holes In The Skull: Historical “Cures” For Mental Illness

Published February 24, 2016
Updated December 9, 2021

Art Therapy

Ancient Egyptian Art Therapy Mental Illness Treatment

A depiction of art therapy in ancient Egypt.

Not all historical treatments were quite so radical, and some even touched on aspects of what we currently practice today.

The ancient Egyptians, for example, recommended painting, dancing, and attending concerts to relieve symptoms of mental illness. In Babylon, Assyria, and the Mediterranean, music was used in the hope of curing the mentally ill, as they felt it affected emotion (and rightly so).

During the Renaissance and after, artists were considered to be people safe from mental illness; art was considered to be a form of therapy that allowed for the purging of things that might otherwise lead to madness.

Even during the Industrial Revolution, some mental health patients were treated with “moral therapy,” which interestingly enough, had absolutely nothing to do with morals.

Instead, people were taken to the countryside, where they engaged in artistic pursuits to ease their troubled minds. This is actually one of the best treatments that the ancients could have used. Art therapy has been proven in modern times to reduce levels of depression and anxiety, and improve quality of life. While there may not be ancient medical journals detailing the results of the time, the fact that art therapy has lasted so long as a treatment — and is still considered effective today — suggests its value as a treatment.

All That's Interesting
A New York-based publisher established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science to share stories that illuminate our world.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.