Humane treatment versus means of control: coercive measures in Norwegian high-security psychiatry, 1895-1978

Hist Psychiatry. 2019 Dec;30(4):424-442. doi: 10.1177/0957154X19867256. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


This article analyses the use of coercive measures in two national institutions for high-security psychiatry in Norway - Kriminalasylet (Criminal Asylum) and Reitgjerdet - during the period 1895-1978. Historical study of coercion in psychiatry is a fruitful approach to new insight into the moral and ethical considerations within the institutions. We approach the topic through a qualitative study of patient case files and ward reports from the institutions' archives, as well as a comprehensive quantification of the coercive measures used. The data show shifting considerations of humane treatment and changes in the respect for human dignity in the institutions' practices. They also show that technological developments, such as the introduction of new psychopharmaceuticals, did not necessarily lead to higher standards of treatment.

Keywords: Coercion; Norway; ethics; high-security psychiatry; history; mechanical restraints; seclusion.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Coercion*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / history*
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / history*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Norway
  • Patient Isolation / history*
  • Psychiatry / ethics
  • Psychiatry / history*
  • Psychiatry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Psychotropic Drugs / history
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Restraint, Physical*


  • Psychotropic Drugs