Mental illness is often a systemic matter, affecting not only the mind, but the physical body as well. Most people are surprised to learn that chiropractic adjustments can help diminish symptoms of mental illness. Chiropractic has been noted to reduce anxiety, help children with ADHD, and assist in cases of schizophrenia. The next few blogs will address mental illness and the chiropractic field.
First, let’s take a look at the history of chiropractic and mental illness…
The History of Chiropractic Care and Mental Illness
The 1920s marked a period of great optimism in the field of chiropractic. Chiropractic schools were prospering and students, confident in their field of study, became eager to challenge conventional approaches to medicine. When it came to mental health and chiropractic one student in particular, Gerard Martin Pothoff (1889-1937), stood out above the rest. Dr. Pothoff was said to have experienced a series of “cures with severely ill mental patients under chiropractic care” (Quigley, 69). This convinced Pothoff that spinal adjustments could offer far more than medical treatments for psychiatric disorders, and inspired him to open a hospital facility where patients could be confined and treated. In 1922, Pothoff opened the first exclusive chiropractic psychiatric hospital, known as the Forest Park Sanitarium. Almost immediately, chiropractors from all over the country began referring psychiatric patients to Forest Park. As the patient population expanded, so did the amount of chiropractic doctors working at the sanitarium. Many of the doctors were faculty members from Palmer School of Chiropractic.
In the beginning Forest Park had the blessings of B.J Palmer, forefather of chiropractic and president of Palmer School of Chiropractic. Eventually, however, philosophic differences caused a rift between Palmer and Pothoff leading to the withdrawal of Palmer’s approval and the resignation of Palmer faculty members. Despite Palmer’s lack of support, the population of patients at Forest Park continued to increase; so much so, in fact, that an additional building needed to be constructed. The fact that the population at Forest Park continued to grow was rather outstanding. W. Heath Quigley author of Pioneering Mental Health: Institutional Psychiatric Care in Chiropractic states, “To properly appreciate these developments it must be remembered that these events were occurring during the beginning years of the great economic depression and there were no insurance policies to ease the financial burden on a patient’s family.” Forest Park’s success lead to the creation of other sanatoriums, and in 1926, Clear View was built.
Like Forest Park, Clear View was well received. The sanatorium’s popularity was due to two main reasons: first, the treatment of patients and second, the restoration of supposedly “incurable patients.” Unlike state hospitals where patients were often neglected and facilities were overcrowded, Clear View was a clean, well managed facility, where considerable attention was given to each individual patient. This provided “a refreshing refuge to those who could afford private care for their loved ones” (Quigley, 71). Furthermore, countless cases demonstrated chiropractic’s success in the restoration of supposedly ‘incurable patients’. One of Forest Park’s biggest spokesmen was Court Judge Ponath, who after visiting the hospital refused to commit the mentally ill to state care if he believed that their family could afford Forest Park. Ponath was so convinced of the correctness of chiropractic that he published a pamphlet in which he claimed that 85 percent of mental patients recovered under chiropractic care. While the origins of this oversimplified statistic are not known, the brochure demonstrated Ponath’s enthusiasm for chiropractic care and explains Forest Park and Clear View’s growing popularity. Unfortunately, however, their popularity could not overcome impending problems.
On January 7th, 1950 a psychiatric hospital near Forest Park experienced a devastating fire. The fire killed 39 patients and a nurse. Survivors were transported to Forest Park because there were no other psychiatric facilities in the area. The fire led to an unexpected arrangement between Scott County and Forest Park, as well as an arrangement with local psychiatrists. The sanatorium was to provide custodial care for the hospital’s patients while under medical treatment. This eventually led to Forest Park becoming a licensed psychiatric hospital. Forest Park began to expand rapidly however, chiropractic patients began to dwindle as the sanatorium shifted from private to state owned. In 1959, Forest Park was sold to a Lutheran church and became a retirement home. Forest Park Sanatorium was no more.
Clear View Sanatorium developed a relationship with Palmer School of Chiropractic, after A.B. Hender (a Clear View doctor) became Dean of the school. Dr. Hender’s influence molded the nature of patient care, adding psychotherapy to the already existing treatment approach of chiropractic adjustments, custodial care, and humane concern. When the owner of Clear View decided to retire in 1951, B.J. Palmer offered to purchase the sanatorium. Around the same time, the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health Report was published. It had a powerful impact on the attitude and practices surrounding mental patient care. The inane and inhumane practices occurring in state care facilitates were finally being destroyed, but this also meant that regulations were becoming much stricter.
Clear View had been licensed as a nursing home facility since 1948, however if Clear View was to survive it would have to be licensed as a hospital to qualify for insurance coverage. Dr. Quigley began lobbying for special licensure. In his attempts he came across 8 other psychiatric hospitals using chiropractic as their primary form of treatment. After a decade of lobbying, Dr. Quigley was successful. He received word that Clear View had been granted special licensure. However, it was too little, too late. Clear View had been shut down by B.J. Palmer’s successor, his son, Dr. David Palmer.
The closing of Clear View interrupted a 10 year longitudinal study to assess the record of recovery of patients under chiropractic care. Each year, a follow-up form was sent to each patient released the previous year and prior years. Seven years of follow-up records were obtained, but the files were not promptly moved to Palmer School. Remaining records were published in Mental Health and Chiropractic, by Dr. Herman S. Schwartz.
The chart below demonstrates some partial conclusions from the incomplete study…
Total Admitted in 1952
|Admitted||Released or Socially Restored|
Had Clear View remained open and the study been completed, the treatment of mentally ill patients could have been completely revolutionized. Chiropractic may have become a more valuable component of care for those suffering with mental health issues. Instead, chiropractic remains a relatively unknown tool in the field of mental health. With that said, I’ve witnessed many patients suffering with mental illness experience amazing results when chiropractic was added to their care plan. Our next blog will discuss just how exactly chiropractic care can help with mental illness. Stay tuned!
Did you enjoy today’s chiropractic history lesson? Feel free to pass it on to your family, friends and coworkers!
Quigley, W.H. (1983). Pioneering Mental Health: Institutional Psychiatric Care in Chiropractic. Chiropractic History, 3, 69-75.