Most people think psychosurgery is not done anymore. Unfortun­ately, this is not true. While psychosurgery was done less frequently in the last three or four decades of the 20th Century, it was never entirely abandoned, and now in the early 21st century psychosurgery is making a comeback.
        What is psychosurgery? Elliot S. Valenstein, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, de­fines psychosurgery as a "brain operation for the pur­pose of alleviating a severe psy­chiat­ric disor­der in the absence of any direct evidence of neuropa­thol­ogy" (Behavior Today, June 28, 1976, p. 5). The following definition appears in a psy­chi­atric textbook: "Psychosurgery is the surgical intervention to sever fibers connecting one part of the brain with another or to remove, destroy, or stim­ulate brain tissue with the intent of modify­ing or alter­ing disturbances of be­havior, thought content, or mood for which no organic pathologi­cal cause can be demon­strated" (John Donnelly, M.D., Sc.D., in: Kaplan & Sad­ock, Compre­hensive Text­book of Psychi­a­try/IV, 1985, p. 1563).
        The term psychosurgery is as illogical as many of the other words used in psychia­try. What is illogical about the term psycho­surgery is that the psyche is not a part of the body, and therefore it is com­pletely impossi­ble to do sur­gery on it. Saying a psychia­trist or a surgeon is going to do surgery on some­one's psyche is as illogical as saying he is going to do surgery on the per­son's soul. Al­though psy­cho­surgery is obvi­ously done on the brain, there is good reason for not calling it brain sur­gery, since unlike psycho­sur­gery, brain surgery deals with known abnor­malities in the brain, such as benign or malignant brain tumor, infection, or intracra­nial hemorrhage. What is magical about the word "psy­chosurgery" is somehow it seems to justify psychiatrists or surgeons doing surgery on brains that as far as is known are biologically speaking perfectly healthy! (Thomas Szasz, M.D., The Myth of Psychotherapy, Anchor Press 1978, pp. 6‑7)
        Psychosurgery goes by various names for variations on what most people call lo­boto­my. Because the term loboto­my has such stigma attached to it, and because late 20th Century and early 21st Century psychosurgery is at least allegedly less damaging than the psycho­surgeries performed 50 years ago, those who perform or defend psychosurgery today usually use terms other than lobotomy to de­scribe it.  Among these terms are subcaudate tractotomy, anterior cingulotomy, limbic leucotomy, anterior capsulotomy, and behavioral surgery.  According to Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, professor of psychiatry at Brown University and chief of outpatient services at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., "We don't like to call it psychosurgery anymore ... It's neurosurgery for severe psychiatric illness" (quoted in Benedict Carey, "New surgery to control behavior", Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2003, & In an editorial in 1990 in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry, Stuart Yudofsky, M.D. and Fred Ovsiew, M.D., wrote: "We propose unburdening so-called psycho­surgery from the multifarious limitations of this appellation by advancing a new term: neurosurgical and related interventions (NRI) for psychiatric disorders" (Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 1990, pp. 253-255, bold print in original). When lobotomy became a pejorative term, it became "psychosurgery". When the harm caused by psychosurgery became widely known, some sought to change the name to behavioral surgery, neurosurgery for psychiatric disorder, NRI, or other terms.
        Some critics are unimpressed by the new names. For example, in a letter to the editors of The New York Times, "Lobotomy as Ancestor of Psychosurgery", published December 8, 1991, Graceann V. Inyard, a social worker, expressed her "outrage" about a November 3 article titled "Lingering Effects of Lobotomies of 40's and 50's".  She says "The article gives the impression that lobotomies were not performed in this country after the advent of neuroleptic drugs. This is not true. They were just given different names under the umbrella term 'psychosurgery,' stereo­taxis and cingulotomies among them."


        The first I recall learn­ing about psy­cho­sur­gery was in an abnor­mal psy­cholo­gy class I took in col­lege when our profes­sor, a psy­chologist, described it in a class lecture. One type he described is drilling two holes in the "patient's" skull on each side of the forehead at about the hair­line to allow access to the frontal lobes of the brain where intellectual mental functioning, thinking, and emotion are be­lieved to take place. In one version, he said, a cylin­drical shaped device that re­sembles an apple corer is in­serted into each side of the brain, and a cylindrical shaped piece of each frontal lobe is removed. He said in other versions of the opera­tion a scalpel is insert­ed to sever connec­tions in the frontal lobes or between the frontal lobes and other parts of the brain. In one type of psychosurgery (transorbital lobotomy), instead of drilling holes in the skull, a scalpel or instrument similar to an ice-pick is poked or hammered through a thin part of the skull in each eye socket known as the orbit into the frontal lobes of the brain, and, our professor said, "the scalpel is moved like this", as he wiggled his finger from side-­to-­side. In his book Mol­ecules of the Mind: The Brave New Science of Molecu­lar Psy­chology, University of Maryland journal­ism professor Jon Franklin de­scribes the same operation as "forcing a thin, ice pick-like instrument through the patient's eye socket and then waving the point around in the brain" (Dell Pub. Co. 1987, p. 64). In their textbook Synop­sis of Psychi­atry, pub­lished in 1988, psychi­atry profes­sors Harold I. Kaplan and Benjamin J. Sadock say the "surgical" instrument used in trans­orbital lobotomy or leukotomy not only is "like" an ice pick; they say it is an ice pick (p. 531). Accord­ing to two supporters of psychosur­gery, the inventor of this method of psycho­surgery was Dr. Walter Freeman, and "His [Dr. Freeman's] initial operating instrument was in fact an ice­pick taken from his kitchen drawer" (Rael Jean Isaac & Vir­ginia C. Armat, Madness in the Streets: How Psychia­try and the Law Abandoned the Mentally Ill, Free Press/Macmillan, Inc. 1990, p. 179). Although my psychology professor didn't use this specific analogy, he made it unmistak­ably clear that he thought such psychosurgeries are as unscien­tific and senseless as trying to repair a malfunctioning tel­e­vision set by drilling a hole in its cabinet, insert­ing a machete, and rattling it around inside the TV cabinet. In other words, these types of psychosurgery, generally known as prefrontal lobotomy, were indiscrimi­nate infliction of damage in the frontal lobes of the brain.  The Bantam Medical Dictio­nary says what it calls the "Modern" version of psychosurgery that is done today is more refined and involves making "selective lesions in smaller areas of the brain" ("leukotomy", Bantam Dell 1981, p. 405).  University of Iowa psychiatry professor Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., describes modern psycho­surgery as follows in her book The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychia­try (Harper & Row 1984, ­p. 214, italics added):

Whereas the older technique of "pre­frontal lobotomy" involved cutting large amounts of white‑matter tracts, the modern tech­nique of psychosurgery em­pha­sizes the selective cutting of very tiny and quite specific portions of the tracts connect­ing the cingulate gyrus to the remainder of the limbic system. This technique is as­sumed to break up the reverberating cir­cuits of the limbic system and thereby stop the self‑perpet­uating cycle of emotional stim­ulation...

The use of the word as­sumed is an admis­sion that psy­chosurgeons don't know for sure what they are doing from a bio­logical perspec­tive.  In The Broken Brain, Dr. Andreasen also says that "While we know a great deal about the motor, sensory, and language systems, and quite a lot about the memo­ry system, the frontal system is still a poorly understood frontier area" (Id., p. 118).  She refers to this part of the brain as "the myste­rious fron­tal lobe" (Id., p. 95). Yet, des­pite our ignorance of what the frontal lobes do and how they work, it is in this very area of the brain that "psycho­sur­gery" is done!  In a book published in 2007, psychologist Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., says G. Rees Cosgrove, M.D., formerly Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and currently Professor of Neurosurgery and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is "perhaps the most well-known psychosurgeon in the United States" (Surviving America's Depression Epidemic, Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 2007, p. 74).  In his book The Noonday Demon—An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon quotes Dr. Cosgrove making the following admission about psychosurgery: "We don't understand the patho­physiology; we have no understanding of the mechanisms of why this works" (Scribner 2001, p. 164). Dr. Cosgrove and Scott L. Rauch, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at McLean Hospital, in an article on a Massa­chu­setts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School web page with a last modified date of March 2, 2005 (still on-line when I checked on September 22, 2014) say "The surgical treatment of psychiatric disease can be helpful in certain patients with severe, disabling and treatment refractory major affective disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and chronic anxiety states." In that article they make the following admissions (italics added):
Although the neuroanatomical and neurochemical basis of emotion in health and disease remains undefined, there is evidence that this system and its interconnections with the cortico‑striato‑thalamic circuits play a central role in the pathophysiology of major affective illness, ob­sessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety disorders. ... Therefore, it is intuitively appealing, to believe that psychiatric disorders that are characterized by affective and cognitive manifestations (eg. depression, OCD, and other anxiety disorders) might reflect a final common pathway of limbic dysregulation. ... Neurochemical models suggest that the affective and anxiety disorders may be mediated via monoaminergic systems. ... Although the exact neuroanatomical and neurochemical mechanisms underlying depression, OCD and other anxiety states remain unclear, it is believed that the basal ganglia, limbic system and frontal cortex play a principal role in the pathophysiology of these diseases. []

It is on the basis of such merely suggestive evidence and con­jecture that psychosurgeons cut, remove, or destroy fibers or tissue in human brains that as far as anybody can determine are perfectly normal.
        What might be the effect of, to use Dr. Andreasen's words­, "cut­ting of very tiny and quite specific portions of the tracts connecting the cingulate gyrus to the re­mainder of the limbic sys­tem"? According to neuro­scientist and PET scan pioneer Marcus Raichle of Washington University in St. Louis, the cingulate gyrus is shown by positron emission tomography or PET scan studies of the brain to be a center for solving word problems. It also activates whenever "subjects are told to pay attention...It also shines with activity when re­search­ers ask volunteers [whose brains are being studied by PET scans] to read words for colors—red, orange, yellow—written in the 'wrong' color ink, such as 'red' writ­ten in blue" (News­week, April 20, 1992, p. 70). In other words, the cingulate gyrus is responsi­ble for some aspects of intelligence.



        The choice of the cingu­late gyrus or other parts of the limbic system in the brain as the target of modern psychosurgery is based on the belief that the limbic sys­tem is responsible for emotions that are often considered the corpus or body or substance of mental "ill­ness". However (overlooking the humanistic costs of damaging these parts of the brain), destroying a person's ability to experience emo­tions isn't necessarily that simple. An article published in 1988 points out the following:

...when it comes to fear, anger, love, sadness or any of the complicat­ed mix­tures of feeling and physical response we label emotions, a loose network of lower-brain structures and nerve pathways called the limbic system ap­pears to be key. ... The most recent research, however, indi­cates that the experience of emotion has less to do with specific locations in the brain and more to do with the compli­cated circuitry that intercon­nects them and the patterns of nerve impulses that travel among them. "It's a little like your television set," says neuro­scientist Dr. Floyd Bloom of the Scripps Clinic and Re­search Foundation. "There are individual tubes, and you can say what they do, but if you take even one tube out, the television doesn't work." [U.S. News & World Report, June 27, 1988, p. 53]

This would seem to explain why victims of "psychosurgery" are often so incapacitat­ed by the surgery they are not able to live outside a hospital or nursing home after psychosurgery even if they were able to do so prior to the surgery.
        In her book Psychosurgery—Damaging the Brain to Save the Mind, published in 1992, Joann Ellison Rodgers, Director of Media Relations for The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, which she calls "the home of biological psychiatry", defends psychosurgery but acknowledges that "within the limbic system are the tangible roots of what make us essentially human." She says "everything that goes on in the limbic system to regulate mood, drive, and emotional reactions actually creates our conscious world, the 'real' world we must deal with every day." Yet she and other advocates of psychosurgery defend psycho­surgeons destroying parts of this very same limbic system or its connections to other parts of the brain.  Modern psychosurgery destroys less of the brain than prefrontal lobotomy but more specifically targets the parts of the brain that make us human.  It is for this reason psychosurgery is sometimes said to be surgery that removes the soul of a human being.  Ms. Rogers says "lobotomy's safer, less mutilating approximations, amygdalotomy and cingulotomy ... have consistently good outcomes" and that "Cingulotomies and related operations have helped hundreds of psychiatric patients".  She quotes psychiatrist Michael Jenike of Harvard Medical School saying "the side effects" of psychosurgery "are very minimal."  She quotes H. Thomas Ballantine, who she says was "one of the nation's most vocal psychosurgeons" saying "one thing we do know at least about cingu­lotomy is that it is safe, even if it is not always effective" (Harper​Collins, pp. xi, 29, 31, 129, 184, 58, 192, 177, 181).
        Similar false claims were made about prefrontal lobotomy, the original psychosurgery (unless you count trepanning by prehistoric man, which was chipping holes in the skull to allow evil spirits to escape).  Prefrontal lobotomy is now thoroughly discredited. Even Joann Ellison Rodgers in her defense of psychosurgery, Psycho­surgery—Damaging the Brain to Save the Mind, admits how bad pre­frontal lobotomies were: She says "Lobotomies and all of early psychosurgery were experiments that failed" (p. 219).  Yet a highly esteemed medical reference and medical school text­book, Anatomy of the Human Body, also known as Gray's Anatomy (by Henry Gray, F.R.S., 28th edition edited by Charles May Goss, A.B., M.D., Lea & Febiger 1966, reprinted 1970, pp. 849-850, italics in original), a required text in my Legal Medicine class in law school, says this:
The frontal area [of the brain]...contains extensive associations with other parts of the cortex and with the thalamus. The surgical operation of lobotomy, which isolates the area from the rest of the brain, especially the thalamus, has been used in the treatment of severe psychosis with generally favorable results (Freeman & Watts '48).

Obviously, the fact that a supposed therapy is endorsed in a stan­dard, widely-used medical reference book or by our most highly esteemed specialists in human biology, health care, and medicine is not a reliable indication. Gray's Anatomy saying lobotomy has "generally favorable results" illustrates why I sometimes have more faith in common sense than in the supposed experts who write medical text­books.
        How bad the outcomes of modern psychosurgery can be and how safe modern psychosurgery isn't is illustrated by the case of Mary Lou Zimmerman, a 58 year old former bookkeeper who had a combined cingulotomy and capsulotomy in 1998 at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to relieve severe (so-called) obsessive compulsive disorder (washing her hands and taking showers frequently).  This psycho­surgery "left her without control of her limbs or bodily functions." In 2002 a jury awarded her and her husband a $7.5 million in damages (Peter Page, "7.5 Million—Jury slams Cleveland Clinic," The National Law Journal, June 24-July 1, 2002, p. A4; Benedict Carey, "New Surgery to Control Behavior", Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2003, ; "7.5 Million Psychosurgery Verdict",
        Psychosurgery being brain damage and nothing but brain damage is even more obvious than in the cases of psychiat­ric drugs and electro­shock. Each of these "therapies" achieve approx­imately the same end, albeit by different means. When I started my library re­search on psychosur­gery I thought psychosurgery is worse, but the evidence indicates that isn't necessarily true: It depends on what drugs are used and for how long, how many electroshock "treatments" are given, the voltage and shock duration used, and on how much cutting (or burning) the psycho­surgeon does.
        According the Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapists, Sixth Edition (New Harbinger Publications 2010, by Preston et al., p. 5-6) "Psychosurgeries were carried out by the thousands in the 1940s, resulting in rather effective behavior control over agitated psychotic patients but at great human cost. Many, if not most, lobotomized patients were reduced to anergic, passive, and emotionally dead human beings." In his book The Brain, Richard M. Restak, M.D., clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University, says "psycho­surgical operations turned out to have exacted an unacceptable cost. Many of the patients were changed so utter­ly that their friends and rela­tives experienced difficulty accepting them as the same in­dividuals they knew before the operation."  This contribut­ed to what he calls "the decline of psycho­surgery" (Bantam Books 1984, p. 151). That it is, or was, a decline rather than aboli­tion is unfor­tunate. In his book, The Second Sin, psychia­try professor Thomas Szasz says "When a person eats too much, his intestines are short‑circuited: this is called a 'bypass operation for obesi­ty.' When a person thinks too much, his brain is short‑circuited: this is called 'prefron­tal lobotomy for schiz­ophre­nia.'" (Doubleday 1973, pp. 61‑62).
        In his autobiography My Lobotomy—A Memoir, written with the help of former Newsweek correspondent Charles Fleming, Howard Dully describes being lobotomized in California in 1960 when he was 12 years old not only without his consent but without his knowledge. He refers to the hospital record:

[Dr. Walter] Freeman [the psychosurgeon] had a warning for the [hospital] nurses: "Avoid escape. The patient is full of tricks. Nurse not to leave him alone at any time. Is not to know why he is in the hospital except for examinations."
      Escape? Why would I try to escape? Where would I go? I was a twelve-year-old kid in a hospital gown. My father and stepmother and doctor had all told me I was in the hospital for tests. I had no reason to believe they were lying to me. They were treating me like the Birdman of Alcatraz, but I was just a kid who had been looking forward to Jell-O [for dinner].  ...  I remember waking up the next day, which would have been Saturday [after the lobotomy].  I felt bad.  My head hurt.  ...
      Freeman's notes tell the story: "Howard entered Doctors Hospital on the 15th and yesterday I performed transorbital lobotomy. ..." [Crown Publishers 2007, p. 96-97]

Howard was lobotomized after his stepmother, with whom he had an unpleasant and adversarial relationship, contacted the lobotomist, Dr. Walter Freeman.  Dully says "My father thought I was fine. Lou [his stepmother] thought I was crazy" (My Lobotomy, p. 79). He recalls this incident (Id., p. 30):
Lou was cutting all the boys' hair. I was last. I was sitting on a little stool, waiting for her to finish. She was cleaning up, using an old Electrolux vacuum cleaner to pick up the hair. For some reason, she took the metal end of the vacuum cleaner hose and hit me on the top of my head with it.
      I flinched.
      She said, "Oh, did that hurt?"
      I said no. I wouldn't admit that anything hurt.
So she hit me again, but harder this time. I flinched again. She said, "How about that? Did that hurt?
      I said no.
So she hit me again, real hard this time.  I felt dizzy.  She said, "How about that? Did that hurt?
      I didn't answer. I figured if I said no again she'd hit me again. I thought she was going to knock me out.

Howard says of his stepmother, "she hated me" (Id., p. 31) and "I remember Lou being mad at me all the time" (Id., p. 81).  Even­tually Lou, his stepmother, came up with what she thought would be a solution:

Lou met with six psychiatrists during the spring and summer of 1960. She wanted to know what was wrong with me and what she should do about it.
      But all six of the psychiatrists, I found out later, said my behavior was normal. Four of them even said the problem in the house was with her.  They said she was the one who could benefit from treatment. ... That wasn't the answer she was looking for.  ...  So she kept looking for a doctor who would agree with her.
      Sometime that fall, someone referred her to a doctor named Walter Freeman. [Id., p. 60]

In Dr. Freeman, the cruel stepmother found a doctor who agreed with her that it was not her but her stepson who was the problem, and they decided to solve the problem by lobotomizing him.  After initially opposing it, Howard's father consented to the operation, giving in to the wishes of his wife.
          Loboto­mizing anyone, particularly a 12 year old, because he was moody, messy, rambunctious, and defiant (or any other reason), is an example of why I call psychiatry evil.
      Dr. Walter Freeman, who lobotomized Howard Dully, was the leading advocate and practitioner of psychosurgery in America. According to Howard and his co-author, it was Dr. Freeman who "proposed changing the name of the procedure from leucotomy to lobotomy" (Id., p. 65), and that became the name by which most people know psychosurgery.  Howard and his co-author tell us in 1946 Dr. Freeman "conducted America's first transorbital lobotomy", also known as the ice-pick lobotomy, which is, or was, done without drilling or cutting into the skull but by punching through the thin bone at the back of the eye socket known as the orbit with an ice-pick and waving the ice-pick around in the brain (Id., p. 70), hence the term "transorbital" lobotomy. This type lobotomy is so simple Dr. Freeman "began doing lobotomies in his office" (Id.) He traveled around the U.S.A. in a specially equipped vehicle he called "The Lobotomobile" (Id., p. 71).  A "Lobotomy PBS [Public Broadcasting System] documentary on Walter Freeman" available on says "By 1967, Dr. Freeman had personally performed more than twenty-nine hundred (2,900) lobotomies." A biography of Dr. Freeman says he did the first lobotomy in the United States and that "In the United States alone, the number of lobotomized patients would soar to about forty thousand over the next four decades, and Freeman would take part in nearly thirty-five hundred of these surgeries (Jack El-Hai, The Lobotomist—A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, John Wiley & Sons 2005, pp. 1, 14) It is reported that Dr. Freeman even lobotomized a patient against his will:
Freeman was ready to do the surgery whenever, wherever. One of his surgical assistants—Jonathan Williams...later told a story about a patient who had been brought to Freeman for a lobotomy. The day before the surgery, though, he'd gotten cold feet and refused to go through with the operation.  He locked himself in his hotel room.  Freeman, contacted by the patient's family, drove to the hotel and convinced the patient to let him in.  Using a portable electroshock machine he had designed and built for himself, he administered a few volts to the patient to calm him down. According to Williams, "The patient was . . . held down on the floor while Freeman administered the shock. It then occurred to him that since the patient was already unconscious, and he had a set of leucotomes in his pocket, he might as well do the transorbital lobotomy then and there, which he did."[My Lobotomy, pp. 72-73]

        Is lobotomizing a person against his will evil?  Is it a more intimate kind of assault than a sexual assault?  Is it more accept­able if the brain is damaged with electricity or neurotoxic and cytotoxic "medications" admin­istered against the "patient's" will, as is commonplace today? Is it more acceptable if the patient consents to brain-damaging "therapy" after being falsely assured no harm will be done?
        In her book Psychosurgery—Damaging the Brain to Save the Mind (pp. 54, 141) Joann Ellison Rodgers says "Oregon and California outlawed the practice of psycho­surgery—Oregon in 1973 and California three years later  ...  Oregon and California passed laws establishing psychosurgery review committees, which resulted in making both voluntary and involuntary procedures virtually impossible to perform." (Should a psychosurgery review committee, or even a court, be empowered to authorize involuntary psycho­surgery?) Oregon's physician licensing statute, §677.190 says this:

The Oregon Medical Board may refuse to grant, or may suspend or revoke, a license to practice for any of the following reasons: 1(a) Unprofessional or dis­honor­able conduct. ... 22(a) Performing psychosurgery.  ...  "psycho­surgery" means any operation designed to produce an irreversible lesion or destroy brain tissue for the primary purpose of altering the thoughts, emotions or behavior of a human being.

       By its terms even if not intent, Oregon's above definition of psychosurgery includes electro­convul­sive "therapy" (ECT).
         An ABC news report dated March 3, 2011 says psychosurgery has been banned by law in the Australian state of New South Wales. The report includes an interview with Richard Bittar, a neurosurgeon from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Dennis Velakoulis of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychia­trists, lamenting the psycho­surgery ban in New South Wales and advocating psychosurgery for severely depressed persons.
         A contrary trend exists in other parts of the world: A psychiatric textbook published in 2014 titled Psychosurgery: New Techniques for Brain Disorders, says "Psychosurgery, or the surgical treatment of mental disorders, has enjoyed a spectacular revival over the past 10 years" (Spring­er Int'l Publishing, back cover) and "Psychosurgery is a rapidly expanding field" (Id., p. xi).  A March 4, 2010 article in Science Daily says "Psychosurgery is making a comeback."  A Medical Xpress article in 2012 includes the results of a study of 63 adult patients at Massa­chu­setts General Hospital who underwent a type of psycho­surgery called stereotactic anterior cingulotomy as a treat­ment for obsessive com­pul­sive disorder (OCD) between 1989 and 2010.  The aforementioned psychiatric textbook about psychosurgery published in 2014 and four medical journal articles about psycho­surgery published in 2012 verify the sad reality of psychosurgery's return to prominence:

Psychosurgery: New Techniques for Brain Disorders by Marc Leveque (Springer International Publishing 2014)

• "Strategies for the return of behavioral surgery", by Eljamel S., Surg Neurol Int. 2012:3(Suppl 1);S34-9. Epub 2012 Jan 14

• "The amygdala as a target for behavior surgery", by Langevin J.P., Surg Neurol Int. 2012:3(Suppl 1);S40-6. Epub 2012 Jan 14

• "Surgery of the mind, mood, and conscious state: an idea in evolution", by Robison R.A., et al, World Neurosurg. 2012 May-Jun;77(5-6);662-86. Epub 2012 Mar 21

• "Psychosurgery: Review of Latest Concepts and Applications", by Aydin S. & Abuzayed B., J Neurol Surg Cent Eur Neurosurg 2012 Oct 26. (Epub ahead of print)

        Like most quack therapies, "psycho­surgery" has sup­porters not only among its practi­tioners but also among at least a few of those who have received it—or perhaps I should say at least a few of those who have physically and psychologi­cally survived it. I once met a woman who'd had a lobotomy, which was apparent at first glance because of the indentations on each side of her forehead at the hairline.  She told me her husband left her when she needed what she called "brain surgery."  When I asked what kind of brain surgery, she replied, "a lobotomy."  She seemed surprisingly normal.  Howard Dully retained enough mental capacity and memory after his lobotomy to write his autobiography, My Lobotomy—a Memoir, with the assistance of a co-author.  He has also made videos about his experience you'll find by doing a search for "Howard Dully" at  The amount of dam­age done by so-called psy­chosurgery varies widely.  The extent of damage depends on how much and what parts of the brain are severed or damaged.  Psycho­surgery kills some people.  In The Noonday Demon—An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon says "In the heyday of lobotomies, about five thousand were performed annually in the United States, causing between 250 and 500 deaths a year" (p. 163).  That's a death rate of between 5% and 10%.  Psychosurgery paralyzes some, causes seizure disorders in a few, and wipes out emotionality, person­al­ity, and mentality in many.  However, if the psychosur­geon cuts or destroys very little of the brain it may affect the "pa­tient" little or in no notice­able way except for power of suggestion or placebo effect.  Much like those who believe their lives have been lengthened by coronary bypass surgery, contrary to scientific evidence showing no increased longevity from the operation for most people who undergo it (see Thomas J. Moore, Heart Failure: A Criti­cal Inquiry Into American Medicine and the Revolu­tion in Heart Care, Ran­dom House 1989, pp. 113-125), the survivors of "psycho­surgery" sometimes emerge from the ordeal of the opera­tion with a strong psychological need to believe they have bene­fited from the surgery and so may claim they have. But it is hard to believe they really have, for the same reason it would be hard to believe a com­puter programming error was corrected not by altering the programming but by disabling a part of the computer.
        While brain damage from psychiatry's drugs or "medications" may not have been appar­ent from the start, it is or to any person with normal intelli­gence and common sense should have always been obvious that elec­troshock and psycho­surgery are brain damag­ing. Elec­troshock and psychosur­gery are therefore espe­cially sad chapters in psy­chiatry's history of senseless­ly searching for physical caus­es of and physical treatments for problems that have not been shown to be the result of a physi­cal or biological problem or abnormality.  Just as blood­letting said something about in­cor­rect theory and the state of ignorance in health care in the past, brain damaging "therapies" such as "psychosur­gery", electroshock, and psy­chiatric drugs reveal much about incorrect theory and ig­norance in psychiatry today.  The shamefulness of the psycho­surgical part of psy­chiatry's history—and in some quarters its present—is gener­ally recognized, even by most psychiatrists.
        Like psychi­atric drugs and electroshock, "psycho­sur­gery" may seem to some to be helpful if it eliminates the so-called symp­toms of so-called mental illness.  If a person is disabled enough, all of his or her "symptoms" of everything (in­cluding desirable person­ality traits) will be "cured".  But changing or damaging a com­puter's hardware is not a logical or reasonable way to respond to the fact that the computer is running a program you dislike, and likewise, neither would be hiring a TV repairman to work on your TV set because there are too many annoying commercials on TV (para­phrasing Thomas Szasz in his book The Second Sin, Anchor Press 1973, p. 99). In a similar sort of way, changing a person's brain despite there being no evidence of biological abnormality is not a logical or reason­able way to respond to the fact that he is thinking, feeling emotions, or performing behavior you dislike—whether you use drugs, electro­shock, or "psycho­surgery".

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provided the reproduction is accurate
and proper credit is given

The author is a volunteer (pro bono) attorney for the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights ( and may be reached at wayneramsay (at) mail (dot) com

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