In the 1930s, American psychiatric hospitals were overcrowded and had few physicians. Treatment was mostly custodial. But starting in the 1930s and 1940s, somatic therapies were introduced to treat the mind by treating the body. One of these was insulin coma therapy (ICT), introduced by Austrian Manfred Sakel and practiced widely in American mental hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s. Using insulin – a drug that had begun to produce miraculous effects in young diabetic patients only 20 years earlier – psychiatrists put patients with schizophrenia in comas for several hours every day, dramatically bringing them back with glucose solutions. Even though the practice is now looked upon as barbaric, many psychiatrists felt the therapy was extraordinarily effective. I argue that much of their experience of efficacy was linked to the spaces in which ICT was administered, which made psychiatrists feel like “real” physicians.
“Performing a Cure for Schizophrenia: Insulin Coma Therapy on the Wards,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 62, no. 2 (April 2007): 213-43.