Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Studying the Mind: Psychology and Mental Health

 When a Quaker died in York Asylum, William Tuke (1732 – 1822) was invited to visit and was appalled by the squalid and inhumane conditions he found. He appealed to his fellow Quakers to revolutionise the treatment of the insane and in 1796 opened the York Retreat for the care of the insane. This was the first of its kind in England, and pioneered new, more humane methods of treatment for the mentally ill. These included removing inmates' chains, housing them in a pleasant environment, with decent food and adopting a programme involving the therapeutic use of occupational tasks.

William Tuke’s model of care was known as Moral Treatment. In keeping with Quaker testimonies to equality, the mentally ill were accorded the status of equal human beings, to be treated with gentleness, humanity and respect.

Similar models of care for the mentally ill followed in other parts of the world, with the first being Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, founded by the Quaker, Thomas Scattergood, in 1817.

In the 21st Century, the philosophy of the Retreat, which continues as a mental hospital today, has played a large part the development of the concept of a therapeutic community, which has wide implications for the treatment of mental health and delinquency.

Another Quaker who has had a significant impact on the treatment of the mentally ill is psychiatrist, Bob Johnson (1942- ). Johnson has spent much of his professional life working with disturbed and dangerous prisoners and researching the impact of different approaches. He believes that everyone can be reached, and no one is untreatable, and challenges much current practice on account.

The James Nayler Foundation was a Quaker inspired charity, born out of the publicity surrounding Johnson's work. The Foundation worked with people suffering emotional distress, often described or diagnosed as Personality or Conduct Disorder.  Many were in prison, or in secure hospitals. Others were in the community where despite recent increases in talking therapies, there remained a lack of compassion and understanding.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, studies of modern psychology inspired new ideas in Quaker spirituality and activism.

Rufus Jones (1863-1948), the American Quaker who first articulated the concept of the Inner Light, was a lecturer in psychology and brought new ideas about human personality to his concept of a Quaker mysticism.

Adam Curle (1916 – 2006) was a peace activist who served in the British Army during the Second World War, and afterwards worked in the army Civil Resettlement Units for the rehabilitation of returning prisoners of war. This work developed his interest in the psychological effects of trauma, and the damage caused by war on communities. His academic work blended psychology and anthropology and in 1950 became the first lecturer in social psychology at Oxford University.

Other Quakers who have made notable contributions to Psychology and Psychiatry include:

Henry Herbart Goddard (1866–1957) who helped develop the Binet / Simon Tests of Intellectual Capacity (the original IQ tests) and carried out studies of the genetic inheritance of intelligence. In the early 20th C, he also espoused eugenics, recommending sterilisation and segregation of the unfit, and taking part in vetting of immigrants at Ellis Island, things he later came to regret. In later life he focused on educational policy and child rearing.  

Catharine Cox-Miles (1890-1984) an American psychologist, associated with the genetic study of genius and with the Terman-Miles test of masculinity and femininity.

Mildred Creak (1898-1993) who chaired the working party which established the landmark nine-point criteria for the diagnosis of autism, published in 1961. Creak maintained that autism, far from being caused by parental inadequacies, as was widely believed at the time, was primarily due to genetic factors.

Alistair Heron (1915 – 2009) was a Scottish Quaker and psychologist, known for his work on physical, physiological and psychological changes with age. He edited the controversial 1963 publication, Towards a Quaker View of Sex.

In 1934, Quaker psychiatrist Arthur Fitch founded Breckenborough School in Yorkshire. His aim was to establish a residential school for boys with special educational needs such as autism and attention deficit disorder and to bring Quaker values to bear on their daily lives and their education.

David Wills (1903 – 1981) was the first British person to train as a psychiatric social worker (he trained in the US). He played a key part in several experimental therapeutic communities, and wrote a number of books describing his ideas and his work. His concern was always for young people who were troublesome to others, or to themselves, or both. 

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Further Reading and Credits

The picture shows The Retreat, in York.