We break down the hydrotherapy scene in Ratched for all the curious fans out there. The new Netflix original has a lot of shocking moments, but fans are haunted by this scene in particular. How does it compare to psychiatric treatments of the time? Was it as bad as it looks?

Psychological thriller series Ratched documents the early life of iconic villain Nurse Ratched from the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The show is developed by American Horror Story producer Ryan Murphy, so it’s no surprise it has some truly hair-raising moments.

Hydrotherapy scene in Ratched


In a scene on the show, hydrotherapy is used as a tool to ‘cure’ a lesbian woman, as in 1947, when the show is set, being gay was sadly regarded as a psychological condition.

In episode 3 of Ratched we see a patient being ‘treated’ with hydrotherapy while locked in a bath tub and secured with metal covers. The head nurse then increases the water temperature to unsafe levels – 119 F or 48 C.

Then she transfers the patient to an ice cold bath straight after. If you think this sounds like torture, that’s because it essentially is. Though afterward, the patient promises to “never do it again”, it is purely to avoid being put through through this once more.

Was hydrotherapy used like in the Ratched scene?

Unsurprisingly with medicine’s long standing inability to understand mental illness, hydrotherapy was actually used to treat ‘psychological conditions’.

According to Psychology Today, it was believed that if a patient was fully immersed in cold water to a near death level it would “kill the mad idea” that caused mental derangement.

We can’t believe this used to happen either.

Similar to the technique used in Netflix’s Ratched, there was also an idea among psychiatrists that transferring a patient from hot water to cold water would “shock them into sanity”.

Hydrotherapy was used to ‘treat’ a range of conditions – essentially anything regarded as a psychological condition, which back then included a lot of things. Anything from homosexuality to women not sleeping with their husbands was regarded as treatable with hydrotherapy by medical professionals well into the twentieth century.

Is hydrotherapy still used today?

Hydrotherapy is still used now but for very different reasons. Nowadays it’s reportedly used for physiotherapy purposes (think athletes taking ice cold baths) to ease painful muscles and joints, and even to treat arthritis.

Plus, it’s now used for relaxation and therapeutic purposes which are a far cry from the hydrotherapy scene in Ratched that we now can’t unsee.

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