Some traditional therapeutic applications from the era before psychopharmacology are still being used in psychiatric hospitals. One such treatment is called “therapeutic body wrap” (“kalter Ganzkörperwickel”), TBW. While its long-standing use appears to support its therapeutic usefulness, little is known about its actual effects on body and mind, and no study was ever carried out to formally prove its efficacy. The Psychiatric Services of Grison (PDGR) currently run a pilot study to better understand the effect of this treatment in psychiatric inpatients.
In pilot study, the physiological and psychological effects of TBW were first studied in psychiatric inpatients. The early piloting phase (Feb-May 2022) was used to critically reflect on the feasibility of the design and to refine research hypotheses for future studies.
In this sub-study, the first case with a completed treatment series (five TBW applications) is presented.
Physiological effects were studied by continuous recordings of heart rate, respiratory rate and skin temperature before, during and after each TBW treatment using the Equivital system with the software LabChart software for analyses of heart rate variability (HRV). In addition, physiological stress parameters (alpha amylase, cortisol) were measured.
A range of psychological measures were assessed in parallel with the physiological markers. These included: perceived stress, state anxiety, somatic perception, and quality of life. Special focus in this sub-study was given to the reactivity of HRV in response to the treatment with TBW.
The critical analysis of the early pilot phase demonstrated the feasibility of the study design and resulted in suggestions for optimising the study protocol, including refined research hypotheses.
In a 32-year-old male inpatient with severe depression, HRV parameters changed in response to the treatment. For most parameters, a typical response pattern evolved only over time, typically during the 3rd TBW, and in parallel with the patients’ subjective ratings of “feeling relaxed”.
Studying traditional treatments in Psychiatry, such as TBW, with modern research methods is feasible and promising. Such studies may help to improve the application of traditional treatments and increase their efficacy in psychiatric patients. HRV parameters could be useful markers of treatment response.