Psychosurgery And Its Role In Psychology

1890 words - 8 pages

Neurosurgery used for the treatment of mental illnesses has a vast history with its origin tracing back to the beginning of time. However, psychosurgery, brain surgery in which attempts to correct a mental disorder, was not developed until the mid-20th century (Mashour). During this time, lobotomies, an alteration in nerve tracts of the frontal lobe of the brain, were performed on Americans who were considered mentally ill. Although many health care professionals at that time supported this practice, there were just as many who were concerned about using psychosurgery as a method of treatment to alter an individual’s brain. This concern stemmed from many cases in which the operation was not beneficial to the patient, and the patient’s questionable level of decision making to provide consent for the procedure because of their level of mental impairment. In spite of the adverse effects psychosurgery had on those with psychiatric disorders, it still remains relevant to psychology because its use has now transpired into less harmful and noninvasive therapies. These modernized treatments have proven to increase quality of life for those with mental disorders. In summary, we will explore the figures that were infamously known for performing this procedure, the safety/legal issues surrounding this surgery, the relevance psychosurgery has to psychology today, and the current practices that are used to treat mental illnesses.

In the United States, psychiatric neurosurgery was the main treatment for psychiatric disorders for several decades. Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, was one of the first to use psychosurgery as a treatment for mental illnesses. He was inspired by Fulton and Jacobson’s frontal cortical ablation on animals that exhibited symptoms of neurosis (Binder). The cortical ablation, removal of the frontal cortex of the brain, in these animals showed improvement in their behavior. This intrigued Moniz. In the late 1930s, he and his colleague, Almeida Lima, performed a leucotomy, removal of the frontal lobe of the brain, as a treatment for psychiatric patients diagnosed with depression. Because of this he is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern psychosurgery (Rodgers, 1992). Moniz’s mentor, Walter Freeman, was also infamously known for his performance of psychosurgeries. He began performing the procedure in the United States as well. He and his colleague, James Watt, were important figures because their performance of lobotomies across the country. Eventually this duo was banned from performing the procedures because of the severe complications that occurred from them (Raz, 2008). Although these surgeries compromised the safety of the patient and caused much controversy amongst other peers and colleagues, these men opened the door to the use of neurosurgery as a treatment for medical illnesses.

During the time that thousands of lobotomies were being performed, there were many mental health care...

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