The Physicians Take Over:
The 1700s or so

By the 1700s, the clergy were increasingly deferring to physicians' expertise in treating Os and Cs. Physicians did their best to help OCD sufferers but they simply did not have many tools available to them. They used the tools they had.

picture of bloodletting procedure
Early illustration of phlebotomy

Hannah Allen described how her doctor used bloodletting (also called phlebotomy) to treat her obsessive "bad" thoughts.1 This widely used technique involved draining blood from the patient in an effort to adjust the bodily "humors."

An astrological healer named Richard Napier (1559-1634) attempted to cure a woman's washing compulsion by determining her zodiac sign, positioning the symbols of the Sun, Moon, planets, and so forth.2

picture of John Woodward
Physician John Woodward

One woman with a harm obsession (distressing thoughts of harming her child) was treated with laxatives and enemas—and her physician, John Woodward (1665-1728), claimed that the purgative treatment cured her distressing thoughts.3

Physicians of the 1700s and 1800s described many types of Os and Cs, including compulsive washing,4 compulsive checking,5 obsessive fear of syphilis,6 aggressive7 and sexual obsessions,8 and "responsibility" obsessions.9 Fewer religious Os and Cs were reported than in earlier centuries.10

The shift to a primarily medical understanding of Os and Cs had consequences for OCD sufferers. The most dramatic consequence was the increasing institutionalization of OCD sufferers in "lunatic asylums."



1Hannah Allen (1683). The medical profession considered individuals with Os and Cs to be suffering from "melancholy." To cure this condition, bloodletting was used to adjust the body's "humors." Today, melancholy means sad or "blue," but back then it had a different meaning.

2Richard Napier (early 1600s).

3John Woodward (1716).

4William Hammond (1879).

5J.E.D. Esquirol (1838).

6Daniel Turner (1724).

7John Woodward (1716); also see Felix Platter (1602).

8Julius Donath (1895).

9Henri Le Grand du Saulle (1875).

10More on whether the content of Os and Cs has changed over the centuries.


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