Surgery and early drug treatments

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In the second quarter of the twentieth century, psychiatrists were eager to try therapies, which look barbaric in hindsight and which attracted criticism even in their heyday. Such treatments including inducing a brief coma by using insulin or barbiturates, another bringing on epileptic seizures, and a third electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). In theory, these interventions relaxed or emptied the mind, allowing a so-called ‘fresh start’ on regaining consciousness.  Psychosurgery, most notoriously transorbital lobotomy or pre-frontal leucotomy, was also fashionable for a time, and ‘worked’, in a sense – removing sections of the brain reduced agitation, but left patients with changed personalities and reduced self-control. The middle decades of the twentieth century saw dramatic breakthroughs in pharmacology, which transformed the long-standing use of chemicals to help sufferers from mental problems.

Image of the week: Electro-Convulsive Therapy machine, 1954
Full Bibliographic Record: Wellcome Library Catalogue L0065853
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

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