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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 54 (2012) 10, 869 - 877

Review article

Insulin shock treatment in The Hague from 1937 to the end of the 1950s

F.A.P.M. van Mensvoort, G. Blok, J.D. Blom

background Insulin shock treatment began to be applied in the 1930s to patients with a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia. Although lacking theoretical and empirical support, the therapy was received enthusiastically and applied quite frequently. However, it quietly disappeared from the treatment repertories in the 1950s.
aim To provide insight into experiences with insulin shock therapy in the psychiatric clinics in The Hague and into the factors that led to the therapy’s rise and fall.
method We searched the literature via PubMed, Medline, Embase and earlier articles using the search terms ‘ insulin shock treatment’ and ‘insulin coma therapy’, and we studied medical records and other relevant documents from the former Rosenburg and Bloemendaal psychiatric clinics in The Hague.
results Insulin shock therapy made its debut in The Hague in 1937. The improvement rates, measured according to the guidelines issued by the Canadian Committee for Mental Hygiene, were good. There were relatively few reports of serious complications. The lack of insulin during World War II and subsequent staff shortages had a negative impact on the use of the therapy.
conclusion Insulin shock therapy was applied in The Hague just as successfully as elsewhere. The abandonment of the therapy in The Hague seems to have been due to practical rather than to evidence-based considerations.

keywords insulin coma therapy, insulin shock treatment, medical innovations, Ramaer clinic, schizophrenia, somatic therapies