Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

What Do Monks, Psychiatric Patients And Prison Inmates Have In Common?

I’ve always been struck by the similarity between solitary confinement inmates and monks. Historically, monks were kept under the vow of silence. They could only leave their cells to attend religious services. The only visitors they were allowed tohave were their religious advisors. (If any of you have seen the movie Into Great Silence you’ll know what I’m talking about.)  The idea of the modern penitentiary came from this ‘penitence’ process: put someone in a room by himself, give him religious guidance while he’s there and he’ll reflect, repent and reform. This was how prisons were run in the Nineteenth Century too: prisoners were kept under the rule of silence and they could only come out of their cells for religious services or for work. No one ever alleged that monks became psychotic because of this though.

Then there’s the psychiatric seclusion room. Again, a bare cell with a bed or a mattress, no visitors, no clothes except a hospital gown. There is no ‘vow of silence’ or ‘rule of silence’ though.

So what makes the difference between the prison segregation cell, the monk’s cell and the psychiatric seclusion room?

Off the top of my head, the obvious one would be the ‘voluntariness’ (if that’s the word) of the confinement. (Although some people became monks because it was either that or get thrown into the king’s dungeon—crime did compel men into the priesthood!) Another would be the purpose of the confinement. Segregation is a disciplinary action for a misbehaving prisoner, although it could also be used to protect the safety of other inmates in the facility. The purpose of segregation is also, theoretically, reformation (and there is research to show that disciplinary infractions drop off after one or two episodes of segregation). Reformation and enlightenment would be the purpose of the monk’s isolation as well. Psychiatric seclusion is used both for the protection of the patient and others.

As we’ve heard from some of our blog readers, involuntary segregation feels the same regardless of the purpose.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »