Throughout history, there have been instances of terrible psychological treatment that violated ethical standards and caused significant harm to individuals.
Here are a few examples:
Trephination: A Hole in the Head
Trephination, also known as trepanation, is an ancient surgical procedure involving the drilling or cutting of a hole into the skull. It has a long history and has been practiced by various cultures throughout the world, dating back thousands of years. While trephination has been used for medical reasons, such as relieving intracranial pressure or removing skull fragments after injury, there is also evidence to suggest that it was employed as a psychological treatment in certain cases.
In ancient times, people believed that trephination could provide a means of treating various mental and spiritual ailments. The underlying assumption was that these conditions were caused by evil spirits, supernatural forces, or imbalances of the humors within the body. By creating an opening in the skull, it was thought that these negative influences could be released, resulting in improved mental well-being.
The practice of trephination for psychological purposes was not limited to a particular civilization or time period. It has been found in archaeological remains from diverse regions, including ancient Egypt, pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas, and ancient Greece. It is important to note that the motivations, techniques, and outcomes of trephination varied across different cultures.
The procedure itself was typically performed using primitive tools such as stone or metal instruments. The surgeon would make an incision in the scalp and then carefully remove a circular piece of bone from the skull. In some cases, the hole would be left open, while in others, a cover made of materials like wood or metal would be placed over it.
The psychological effects of trephination as a treatment remain a topic of debate among researchers. While some ancient skulls show signs of healing, suggesting that the individuals survived the procedure, it is difficult to determine the exact reasons and outcomes. There is limited empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of trephination as a psychological treatment, and the risks associated with the procedure, such as infection and brain damage, were significant.
In contemporary times, trephination for psychological purposes is considered an obsolete and highly controversial practice. The advancement of modern medicine and our understanding of mental health conditions have led to the development of evidence-based treatments that are safer and more effective. Psychiatric medications, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic interventions are widely available and have been extensively studied for their efficacy.
It is important to approach historical practices like trephination with caution and skepticism. While they provide insight into the beliefs and knowledge of ancient civilizations, they should not be considered valid or recommended psychological treatments in the modern era. The field of psychology and psychiatry has made significant progress in understanding and treating mental health conditions, offering individuals evidence-based approaches for their well-being.
Insulin Shock Therapy
Insulin shock therapy, also known as insulin coma therapy, was a form of psychiatric treatment that was used primarily in the mid-20th century. It involved the administration of large doses of insulin to induce a controlled coma in patients with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression.
The practice of insulin shock therapy originated in the 1920s when researchers observed that individuals with diabetes who experienced hypoglycemic episodes, or low blood sugar, displayed temporary improvements in their mental health symptoms. Building upon this observation, psychiatrist Manfred Sakel introduced insulin shock therapy as a treatment for psychiatric disorders in 1927.
The procedure involved injecting patients with a carefully measured dose of insulin, typically derived from pigs or cattle, which caused their blood sugar levels to drop rapidly. This induced a coma-like state that lasted for several hours. During this time, patients were closely monitored by medical professionals to ensure their safety.
The rationale behind insulin shock therapy was based on the theory that by temporarily suppressing brain activity, the treatment could reset or alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. It was believed that the coma induced by insulin would allow the brain to rest and recover, potentially reducing psychotic or depressive symptoms.
Insulin shock therapy gained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly in Europe and the United States, as a treatment for various mental disorders. It was often considered as a last resort for patients who did not respond to other forms of therapy, including psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
Despite its widespread use, the practice of insulin shock therapy was controversial and faced criticism due to its potentially dangerous side effects. The treatment carried significant risks, including the possibility of severe hypoglycemia, brain damage, and even death. Patients undergoing insulin shock therapy required careful monitoring to prevent complications and manage the delicate balance of blood sugar levels.
As psychiatric medications and other treatment options advanced, insulin shock therapy gradually fell out of favor in the 1950s and 1960s. The development of antipsychotic medications, in particular, revolutionized the field of psychiatry and offered more targeted and safer alternatives to treat mental illnesses.
Today, insulin shock therapy is no longer considered an accepted or standard treatment for psychiatric disorders. Its use has been largely discontinued due to the availability of more effective and less risky treatments. However, the historical significance of insulin shock therapy remains, serving as a reminder of the evolution of psychiatric care and the ethical considerations involved in the development and implementation of medical treatments.
Lobotomy, also known as prefrontal lobotomy or frontal lobotomy, was a surgical procedure that gained popularity in the mid-20th century as a treatment for severe mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders. It involved the removal or destruction of parts of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which was believed to be responsible for emotional and behavioral regulation.
The procedure was developed by Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz in the 1930s and was later refined by American neurologist Walter Freeman and neurosurgeon James Watts. The most common form of lobotomy was the transorbital lobotomy, also known as the ice pick lobotomy, which involved inserting a sharp instrument, such as an ice pick, through the eye socket and into the brain to sever the connections of the prefrontal cortex.
The rationale behind lobotomy was based on the assumption that by disrupting the neural pathways in the prefrontal cortex, the procedure could alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. It was believed that severing these connections would reduce the intensity of emotions, calm agitated behavior, and help individuals become more manageable.
Lobotomy gained widespread attention and acceptance in the medical community during the 1940s and 1950s, as it was seen as a potential solution for patients with severe mental illnesses who did not respond to other treatments. At its peak, lobotomy was performed on thousands of patients worldwide.
However, the practice of lobotomy faced significant controversy and criticism. While some patients did experience temporary relief of symptoms, many others suffered severe and permanent side effects. These side effects included changes in personality, cognitive impairment, decreased motivation, emotional blunting, and sometimes even a complete loss of functioning. The procedure was also associated with a high mortality rate, with some patients dying as a result of complications or infections.
As psychiatric medications and other forms of therapy became more widely available in the 1950s and 1960s, the use of lobotomy gradually declined. The advent of antipsychotic medications, in particular, revolutionized the treatment of mental illnesses by targeting specific neurotransmitters and offering more targeted and less invasive options.
Today, lobotomy is considered an obsolete and highly controversial procedure. Its use has been largely abandoned, and it is no longer an accepted treatment for mental disorders. The development and use of lobotomy serve as a cautionary tale in the history of psychiatry, highlighting the importance of evidence-based and ethical practices in the field of mental health treatment.
Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” refers to a range of practices that aim to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These therapies operate on the premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT+) is a mental disorder or something that can and should be “cured” or changed.
Conversion therapy techniques have included various approaches, such as talk therapy, aversion therapy, prayer, religious rituals, and even more extreme measures like electroconvulsive therapy or chemical castration. The specific methods employed varied depending on the therapist or organization promoting such practices.
Historically, conversion therapy emerged in the mid-20th century, rooted in prevailing social and cultural attitudes that pathologized homosexuality and transgender identities. Its proponents claimed that by altering a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, they could help individuals conform to societal norms and avoid discrimination or prejudice.
However, over the years, conversion therapy has come under intense scrutiny and has been widely discredited by reputable medical and psychological organizations. Numerous professional bodies, including the American Psychological Association, the World Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association, have denounced conversion therapy as ineffective, harmful, and lacking scientific basis.
Research consistently indicates that conversion therapy is not only ineffective but can also be profoundly harmful to individuals who undergo it. Studies have shown that it can lead to increased psychological distress, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even suicidal ideation. The therapy fosters feelings of shame, guilt, and rejection, exacerbating the stigmatization and marginalization already experienced by LGBT+ individuals.
Recognizing the significant harm caused by conversion therapy, a growing number of countries and regions have taken steps to ban or restrict its practice. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, several countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, and Canada, have implemented comprehensive bans on conversion therapy, either nationwide or in specific regions. Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces have also enacted legislation prohibiting the practice for minors, with several other countries actively considering similar measures.
The movement against conversion therapy has gained momentum, with numerous advocacy groups, human rights organizations, and mental health professionals working to raise awareness about the dangers of these therapies. Efforts are underway to promote acceptance, inclusivity, and support for LGBT+ individuals, focusing on affirming their identities and combating discrimination.
It is important to note that while conversion therapy is being increasingly recognized as unethical and harmful, societal acceptance and support for LGBT+ individuals remain ongoing challenges in many parts of the world. Efforts to promote understanding, respect, and equal rights for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, continue to be crucial in creating inclusive and affirming communities.