The use of fainting couch had become popular among the upper class during the Victorian era in the 19th century. Basically, a Victorian fainting couch is simply like a couch as we know it today but with only a single backrest extended at one side. It was particularly used by women and was usually placed in a separate room called the fainting room.
What was the use of a fainting couch in the Victorian era?
There had been many speculations with the use and purpose of fainting couches during the Victorian era. One theory was that Victorian women experienced regular fainting – fainting spells – as a subsequent result of wearing corsets too tightly. Studies showed that wearing corsets during the Victorian era disrupted the natural lung capacity from 2% to 29%. This resulted to short breaths that can be initially eased through rest and relaxation.
With this, as soon as women experience fainting spells, let’s say from a social activity, they will have to retire from the occasion and head towards the fainting couch to take a break. In Victorian culture, it was improper to disturb the fainting couches right after they had just been made in the morning.
Another common theory was the use of fainting couches as a home remedy for female hysteria. Hysteria was once a common medical diagnosis exclusively for women. Sexual intercourse was deemed to be the main prescription, but for several instances, they were rather given a pelvic massage.
While the patient was lying on a fainting chair, a home doctor or a midwife would perform a pelvic massage. Pelvic massage included manual genital stimulation that lasted until the patient reached the point of hysterical paroxysm. Fainting rooms followed as a support to the patients’ need for comfort and privacy during massage sessions.
Fainting Couch and Psychoanalysis
Later on, the use of fainting couch as a furniture for medication was further popularised by the late psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.
Freud was well known with his development of psychoanalysis therapy. His Victorian fainting couch had become an iconic tool in his practice. Psychoanalysis is a lengthy process that would usually require several sessions between the patient and the psychoanalyst. Basically,
Freud would have his patient lie on a fainting couch to relax. He would sit behind him listening and taking notes while his patient tells him about his dreams, childhood experience and train of thoughts. With this process, the repressed unconscious thought of the patient will be situated in the conscious, therefore gaining insight of the disease not as a physical ailment, but rather psychological.
Psychoanalysis, with the use of Freud’s fainting couch, cured several cases of hysteria, anxiety and depression during the Victorian era. Further, it had also developed both the medical and psychological field of studies upon Freud’s discovery of Ego, Superego, Id, Oedipus complex, and Libido among many others.
As the 20th century approached, many imitations of the modern fainting couch have been created for the market. These reproductions maintained Victorian period styles. On the other hand, Freud’s iconic couch design was also reproduced and the sofas used to be situated in various psychoanalysts’ offices for years.