In addition to reforming the admission system, clause six of the new legislation also provided local authorities with more treatment options, including out-patient treatment with a view of preventing hospitalisation, and actively encouraged research in relation to mental disorders and their treatment (Historic Hansard, 17 February 1930). Despite such high ambitions the Act does not define ‘treatment’, but rather vaguely equates it with ‘hospitalisation’. Nevertheless, the 1930s to 1960s witnessed the most prolific experimentation with physical treatments to date, encouraging revisionists to ask ‘what is it that appears to make the mentally ill so vulnerable to therapeutic experimentation?’ (Scull, 1994). This very generalising question has to be examined extremely carefully with regards to the DCMH. Whilst myriad, often hazardous, treatments were trialled and discarded during this period, there is no evidence of an ‘orgy of experimentation’ at the DCMH. In fact, most treatments were only introduced to the DCMH after they had been trialled not only on the continent, but also in other British mental hospitals. Neither can we regard the patients as passive victims, as there is evidence that patients – and in some cases their relatives – specifically requested certain treatments. Additionally, the new category of voluntary patients did not only have the right to discharge themselves, but could also reject treatment, an option taken up by only a minority of patients.
Treatment offered at the DCMH from the 1930s can be broadly divided into the two categories of social and physical therapies.