Titicut Follies

Titicut Follies is an observational documentary that was intentionally directed to gain the attention of state representatives and mental health professionals in the mid 1900’s. The need for immediate funding and directional aid is seen within the strenuous conditions portrayed at Bridgewater State Hospital. Wiseman, along with his crew and the hospital superintendent unveil the graphic horrors lived by those in a criminally insane institution before ethic codes and mental health awareness.

While the intentions of this film were to gain the audiences’ captivation and support, Wiseman received criticism for invading and exploiting patient privacy. Patients faces and nude bodies were viewed on film, without their consent. However, the superintendent of Bridgewater signed patient privacy wavers (as he was their legal guardian) bypassing the need for patient consent.

The patients observed within Titicut Follies were criminally charged with insanity and placed at Bridgewater for the well being of themselves and those around them. These patients often times did not have active families and were hidden away from the rest of society. Ethically, the film should not have taken place, as these patients were not in the correct state of mind to understand and sign a privacy waiver. However, many believe the film portrayed a side of the mental health field that was desperately needing change.

This film is now used for educational purposes, such as classroom discussion and history of mental health. Titicut Follies portrays human behavior in two different ways: those of the criminally insane and those in authority positions. This is a blatant divide of interaction which results in many of the horrific scenes viewed throughout this film.

Often times, guards and nurses both mentally and physically abuse their patients by hitting, name-calling, spitting, etc. While this is an accurate portrayal of life inside an asylum for the criminally insane, it also provokes human emotion among the audience of the film. This human emotion is what Wiseman hoped to promote a movement for funding mental health hospitals. Although his plan took a different turn, the intentions of Titicut Follies was to help the patients inside.

As we have learned throughout the history of psychology, the task of observation proves to be a valuable tool in learning and categorizing human behavior. Wiseman used observation as method of film to gain emotion and attention among his audience. The exploitation of the conditions at Bridgewater and the criminally insane patients started a discussion amongst families of patients, mental health professionals, and state representatives of the lack of funding and health treatments available. This film is a stepping stone to the mental health awareness era we are currently experiencing. Titicut Follies provides an educational supplement to the first-hand experiences of patients and subjects experiencing mental health issues. #blog

Assorted Links

During class discussions, we’ve talked about a lot of things that aren’t covered in the readings. On this page, you’ll find links to articles and videos related to those discussions. These are all optional, but you may find them interesting.

Diagnosing children:

Solitary confinement:



Brains & Nerves

Unit-Wide Questions:

  • Is the brain the central factor in psychology and related fields? Is there another way we could think about psychology?
  • Is the brain different than the nervous system? How so? Is one responsible for mental states and the other physical ones? Are these two things different?
  • Does thinking about a specific site of illness mean you have to target the same site for intervention? Why or why not? How do contemporary psychologists answer this question in practice?
  • How have our ideas about the brain evolved?
  • Are our contemporary ideas correct? How can we know?
  • Do our contemporary ideas reflect historical ideas about brains? How so?
  • Is the brain the same thing as the mind? What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Does thinking about this through the lens of behaviorism or Gestalt theory help you draw conclusions? What would believers of each framework say?
  • How do we sort different illnesses into different specialist categories? Why is something a neurological problem rather than medical one? Why are some things mental illnesses and others are neurological disorders? What bearing does this have on treatments?
  • Is there a line between physical disorders and mental ones? If so, where is it? What does our ever-increasing knowledge of the brain mean for this line? What about non-brain science, like research on the effect of the gut microbiome, mean?
  • If ideas about nerves could impact and be impacted by so many other factors (gender, modernity, class, etc.) during the latter half of the 19th century, what modern factors link up to our current ideas about psychology? What recent psychological discoveries or theories have changed how we think about society as a whole?
  • Compare what different kinds of sources can tell us about psychology. Are fictional stories valid? What about patient narratives? What about non-psychologist accounts about other people’s mental illness?
    • What does this say about expertise, whose viewpoints are important, and whose viewpoints get to be heard?
    • What does it say about creativity and objectivity? Is a research study with data more valid than a creative attempt to express a mental state?

September 18: Early American Neurology


Optional reading:

  • Debra Journet, “Phantom Limbs and ‘Body-Ego’: S. Weir Mitchell’s ‘George Dedlow’” (Mosaic, Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 1990)
  • David G. Schuster, “Personalizing Illness and Modernity: S. Weird Mitchell, Literary Women, and Neurasthenia, 1870-1914” (Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 79, No. 4, Winter 2005)
  • Barbara Sicherman, “The Uses of a Diagnosis: Doctors, Patients, and Neurasthenia” (Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 23, No. 1, January 1977)


  • Why did people become interested in nerves at this time? What material factors created the ability to study the nervous system?
  • What role does modernity play in 19th century understandings of nerves? What about gender?
  • Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” after Silas Weir Mitchell recommended the rest cure for her. She stated that she had written the story to show him the error of his ways and even sent him a copy. How do Gilman and Mitchell’s perspectives on treatment differ? Why do they differ?
  • What’s wrong with the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper”? How would we explain her situation today? Is it psychological? Physical? Social?

September 23: Psychosurgery





  • Why did lobotomies become popular?
  • Did they work? For what?
  • Were they ethical? If not, why not? Think about other physical interventions we make to the body; is a lobotomy different from an amputation or other irreversible treatments?
  • How does patient consent play into this? If a patient is ill enough to need a lobotomy, can they give consent? If not, should they simply not be treated?
  • How do we know a treatment works? What does it mean for a treatment to work? Does this require an underlying theory or merely observational data?