The History Brain Research
The Lobotomy (Continued) and Electric Shock Therapy

Today, there are still some western countries that still permit the lobotomy surgery. However, its use has decreased worldwide. In 2001, there were fewer than 20 brain operations in the US per year (Boeree, 2001). These operations are not lobotomies. 

Freeman’s legacy of the lobotomy has scared away researchers and funding for research. Up to 2001, the National Institute for Mental Health does not fund research for psychiatric surgery. It is important to note that

Freeman in his early years was not the monster he has been made out to be. He was acting in the best interest of his patients at the time.                                                                 

Mental institutions were overcrowded in the 1950’s, and people stayed longer. Patients came to mental institutions for many mental health issues. They ranged from mild to severe.  

Nowadays, psychiatrists can prescribe medication for patients. Also, mental institutional stays are shorter for those with many disabilities (Sabbatini, 1997).

Another discovery in 1938 was Electro-Convulsive therapy. Electric-Convulsive therapy or ECT involves applying an electric shock to the brain to create seizures in order to treat certain mental disorders. It was very popular in the 1940’s and the 1950’s. Its use decreased with pharmacological treatments in the 1960’s, but was re-introduced in the 1970’s. It has been regarded as a popular treatment ever since (Breggin, 1979). 


In the year of 2000, in the U.S. an average of 50,000 people receive ECT each year. It is used mostly for depression, Bipolar disorder, acute mania and certain types of schizophrenia.

The patient receives typically between 140-170 volts of electric shock. Electrodes are attached to the brain, (single or double). A typical treatment schedule consists of 6-12 actual shocks over a period of 3 weeks. An anti-depressant is given after the treatment to prevent a possible relapse (Breggin, 1979).

Research has shown beneficial impact on depression and other mental illnesses. ECT results have greatly improved over the years. Six clinical trials were done in the 1970’s with patients who had severe depressive disorder. Half of the patients received ECT and the other half received dummy ECT treatments. The patients who received the real ECT treatments got better faster.

It is thought that ECT stimulates the long term production of neurotransmitters. This is similar to a long course of anti-depressants. The main advantages of ECT are that it is good for patients that have failed to respond to medication, or therapy.                                

It also produces faster positive effects compared to the more traditional therapies. It takes about 2-3 weeks rather than several months to get positive results (Goldman).       

ECT’s greatest criticism is that there is no convincing scientific evidence of how it works. It is all based on theories. One of the theories is that ECT stimulates the long term production of neurotransmitters and acts similar to an anti-depressant drug. Another theory is that shock causes brain damage which can disrupt certain memory engrams,thus causing the patient to forget their problems temporarily (Breggin, 1979).

The side effects of ECT include retrograde amnesia, disorientation, sleep disturbances, confusion and the ability to form new memories. There are also claims that

ECT produces long term brain damage. Success rates show that ECT is an effective treatment for certain disorders. The success rates show a rate of 60 – 80%. However it is also reported that there is a 50% relapse rate within six months. It is suggested that anti-depressants need to be utilized as a follow up treatment for ECT or additional ECT treatments (Lambourn & Gill, 1979).

Again, we find a brain treatment that we do not understand how or why it works. It also has long term side effects. Memory loss is a major side effect . Although this treatment has been used for decades, it has significant side effects and a high relapse rate. ECT holds a negative view in the publics eye similar to the lobotomy (Lamburn & Gil,1979).

Human Brain Research History of Ancient Rome, Asia, & Middle Ages

Back to Page 1 of Human Brain Research History

Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt Human Brain Research

The History of Early Brain Surgery in Brain Research

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