The history of lobotomy in the VA


Lobotomies, Electro-Convulsive Therapy, massive doses of untested pharmaceuticals; just a few of the destructive toys in their box. Like a precocious child trying to fix a watch with a hammer.


If only psychiatry’s sorry state were the result of some sinister cabal withholding the treatments that actually work for cartoonishly evil purposes of some sort, a problem that could be resolved just by shooting a few people, rather than a ghastly mess of research…


There was an incredibly disturbing PBS documentary some years ago about Walter Freeman and his icepick lobotomies. It left me in disbelief that anything like that was ever considered okay.


During the anniversary of the Kennedy shooting, I was watching the Kennedy home videos. What was Rosemary Kennedy’s diagnosis? Was she schizophrenic?

1 Like

And some people have nostalgia for the past. Bah to the past, I say. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

1 Like

Did anyone else find themselves touching their eye socket at various points in that article? I find the whole idea disturbing, and it seems nearly incomprehensible that medical professionals ever thought this could even possibly be a good idea.

Back when I was a medical student and doing nursing assistant shifts to pay my way, I did a summer job in an old, sprawling, Victorian era lunatic asylum —by then renamed as a psychiatric hospital.

One of the patients on a male psychogeriatric ward had been incarcerated as a youth in the early 20th Century, as he had been deemed insane rather than criminal after a minor robbery. Shortly after admission (in an attempt to escape) he’d bashed a nurse on the head with a shovel during ‘occupation therapy’ in the garden and made a run for it. So 6 people dragged him back, pinned him down and a psychiatrist performed an “emergency” trans-orbital lobotomy on him in a side room of the very same ward that he ended up in as an old man. And thus condemned him to a lifetime as a mumbling, shambling shadow of a human being, institutionalised until his death.

Not an uncommon story, sadly, but just to point out that the results of Walter Freeman’s nasty little procedure are still in living memory … :frowning:


blindfolds come in rose tints?

1 Like

Yes I think so.

Are you sure that wasn’t a Ken Kesey novel?

I suppose if we try to identify a silver lining in all this, it is that such horrific and ineffective procedures have added weight to the need for evidence-based medicine.

That entire story about her is so sad. Were there no effective drugs at the time? Giving her a lobotomy seemed like such an extreme measure, and then after it was botched, she was sent away as if she never existed. I know times were different back then, but to see her in the family videos, she looked like such a lovely young girl.

i feel slight awareness on my person when watching or reading about medical procedures. it’s not empathy, for which i am thankful. it’s not just you.

going back over part one of this series now.

According to Wikipedia, the first antipsychotic drugs were first discovered in the 1950s. Most antipsychotics are depressants of one kind or another, and all of them have potentially severe side-effects (like most drugs).
Wikipedia also says Rosemary Kennedy was 23 when she had her lobotomy, and she was born in 1918, so the lobotomy was in 1941, a decade or more before the first clinically relevant antipsychotics were discovered.

1 Like

She was lobotomized in 1941 according to Wikipedia. Antipsychotic drugs such as Thorazine did not come to the market until the mid-1950s.

1 Like

The idea that massive disruption of the frontal cortex is a good plan is pretty disturbing. The notion that you can avoid basically all bone damage and considerably speed healing by going in through the eye socket is a perfectly logical optimization of a bad idea.


A similar story may have been used as a plot device. But this one was sadly non-fictional —I read the clinical notes while sat in the room where it was done. Creepy feeling.

The thing is in some cases Lobotomies actually did personal good and turned people into productive fairly normal intelligent members of society.

Unfortunately other cases you end up with rosemary kennedy.

As I recall her personal situation was she effectivly had a child’s mind in an adult body meaning she would act out inappropriately and or be sexually curious when that very concept terrified her family. I am not sure though if this is the case.