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What is a Lobotomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A lobotomy is a surgical procedure which involves removing or damaging parts of the frontal cortex. Lobotomies were historically used to treat patients with psychological illnesses and behavioral disorders; in the 1950s, they were largely phased out and replaced with medications, talk therapy, and other forms of treatment. As a general rule, lobotomies are not performed today, and many people think that they are actually quite barbaric.

When performed successfully, a lobotomy could result in significant behavioral changes for the patient. For psychotic patients, lobotomies were sometimes beneficial, calming the patient so that he or she could live a relatively normal life. Lobotomies are also famous for causing a flat affect and general decreased responsiveness; this was viewed as a benefit of the lobotomy historically by some advocates of the procedure.

However, lobotomies can also go very wrong. The brain is an extremely delicate and very complex organ, and in the era when lobotomies were performed, people did not know much about the brain, as they did not have the benefit of a wide range of scientific tools to visualize the brain and its activities. At its worst, a lobotomy could cause death, but it could also cause serious brain damage, resulting in what was essentially retardation of the patient. Patients could also enter comas and persistent vegetative states after lobotomies.

The earliest lobotomies appear to have been performed in 1892, when Dr. Gottlieb Burckhardt experimented with what he called a leucotomy in Switzerland. Two of his patient died, so the procedure could hardly be said to be a screaming success, but it planted the seeds for Portuguese doctors Antonio Moniz and Almeida Lima, who worked on a version of the lobotomy in the 1930s which involved cutting holes in the patient's skull and injecting the frontal cortex with alcohol to kill part of the brain. Moniz actually won a Nobel Prize in 1949 for this work.

When the leucotomy crossed the pond to the United States, where it was perfected by Dr. Walter Freeman, the name changed to “lobotomy.” Freeman discovered that it was possible to access the frontal cortex through the eye sockets, performing the so-called “ice pick lobotomy,” which essentially scrambled the connections of the brain.

By the 1950s, doctors were turning to less extreme methods to treat patients with psychiatric disorders, and by the 1970s, the lobotomy had been largely banned in most of the developed world. Today, doctors sometimes perform what is known as psychosurgery, a form of neurosurgery which involves selective destruction of the brain, to treat very specific conditions. Generally such surgery is treated as an alternative of last resort.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1003910 — On Oct 05, 2020

Shock therapy works the best and should be more widely used. Would be effective in the elderly, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.

By anon165892 — On Apr 06, 2011

@anon99040 the procedure you're referring to where there's no scars or signs of a lobotomy, is discussed in the article. It's the ice pick lobotomy where they enter the eye socket.

By anon99040 — On Jul 25, 2010

@Anon56812: I believe it could be possible that a lobotomy was performed on you without you knowing it. I am not an expert, maybe they have some improved techniques but wouldn't you have some scars or signs that it was preformed?

Lobotomy is a surgery which involves cutting into the brain. Maybe what you are asking about is electric shock therapy, and not lobotomy. In electric shock therapy, they use the flexible rubber tube that you are speaking of. that is what they put it in your mouth: to keep you from biting your tongue. You would have no physical signs that anything happened to you but you could have the symptoms you are speaking of. Tunnel vision and so on.

By anon95538 — On Jul 13, 2010

As someone who was diagnosed to be 'schizophrenic' brought on by a court case driven by my ex, it was curious to see one psychiatrist who would hardly have me in his office if I were not prepared to take modern drugs. I wanted to be cured, not drugged.

I visited a herbalist/homoeopath/acupuncture who cured me over two years, with about 60 visits. Under severe stress, I can still hear my mother or one of my children call me, always a scary event as I feel that it is the start of getting sicker.

I just go and get some herbs or whatever and feel fine until the next disaster in my life.

You do not need to be a 'patient' for life. Who needs to be drugged and fat? I exercise, eat well and do not drink or smoke. You have to put in some effort to stay healthy!

By anon56812 — On Dec 17, 2009

i think I was given a lobotomy, without my consent, some 22 years ago. Because I had tunnel vision, when had a fight in a prison i was once in. I think this for a number of reasons.

1. i found a thick piece of flexible plastic rubber tube in my cell one morning.

2. The other prisoners, asked what was going off in my cell that night.

3. I had massive pain full headaches for about a week after, but they sent me to the dentist.

4. I have not had tunnel vision since.

Could I have had a lobotomy without me knowing? could someone please tell me, how I could prove it?

By anon23707 — On Dec 31, 2008

Lobotomies are still used by sadistic psychiatrists. They just use other terms now instead of lobotomy because of the stigma attached to that word. Millions are dead and permanently damaged by psychiatry. I know Tom Cruise gets a beating by the big-Pharma controlled media about it and that's because he was right about psychiatry. Look at it's barbaric history and it's barbaric present. Instead of being "glib" about it, actually look at it. If Tom Cruise was way off they'd leave him alone. It's only because he was dead on that he's attacked because they now can't argue against his points but instead work to discredit the messenger.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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