Copyright

Biological Therapy

  • 0:15 Biological Methods
  • 1:00 Medical Treatments
  • 1:20 Electroconvulsive Therapy
  • 2:58 Insulin Shock Therapy
  • 3:50 Psychosurgery
Create An Account
To Start This Course Today
Used by over 10 million students worldwide
Create An Account
Try it free for 5 days
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

Do you think psychological problems can be fixed with electric shocks or brain surgery? Find out more about biological treatments for mental problems and the controversial role they played in treating patients.

Before psychiatric drugs were developed, psychiatrists sometimes used other biological methods to try to cure or improve their patients' mental health. Therapists understood that changing the body could change the mind, but they didn't have reliable ways of determining targeted biological treatments. Most of these treatments are either no longer used today, or are used as last-resort options for severe conditions. These psychiatric methods used in the past seem crude compared to today's treatments. But it's worth having at least a basic knowledge of the origin of biological treatments to gain perspective on current treatments and to think about the ethical issues that surround many of these methods. After years working only with talk-therapy approaches based on the teachings of Freud, psychiatrists were eager to have options for treating patients that were distinctly medical. These biological treatments seemed, at least at first, much more cut-and-dry than talking about feelings. However, many medically based treatments were largely ineffective and often cruel--but were pursued, often, because doctors felt like they were really doing something for their patients, rather than just talking to them or putting them in mental institutions to live out their days.

Electroconvulsive therapy, abbreviated ECT, became popular in the 1940's as a treatment for nonresponsive patients of many psychological disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. Technicians used electric shocks to give patients seizures that were intended to help them recover. Seizure treatments had been used before, but had required giving patients certain drugs that were expensive and sometimes caused unpredictable reactions. ECT gained notoriety in the 1970's due to high-profile negative portrayals in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The poet Sylvia Plath described ECT:

'By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me. / I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.'

You might be surprised, after hearing such a scary, painful-sounding description, to know that ECT is still used today in cases of severe depression. Though there are many people who feel ECT affected them negatively, others report that the treatment really did help them where modern antidepressants failed. A common side effect is memory loss; because of this, patients are rarely forced to undergo the treatment and are encouraged to weigh their decision carefully. For some, some memory loss is worth no longer feeling depressed. For others, this tradeoff is unacceptable. Author Ernest Hemingway complained of the treatment:

'Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient?'

For someone who wrote fiction for a living, the loss of memory was worse than the depression.

Another kind of shock therapy, called insulin shock therapy, was used to treat schizophrenia in the 1930's-50's. Patients would receive doses of insulin, a hormone which you may associate with diabetics. The dose would be high enough to put them into a coma. Doctors would carefully monitor the patients' comas, then eventually revive them. Though some studies showed that it helped, usually the patients selected for the treatment were those with the best chances of getting better anyway. Later doctors found that the insulin itself didn't seem to do anything; patients who were put into comas by other means had similar results. Insulin treatment had lots of nasty side effects, including massive weight gain, restlessness, and discomfort between treatments. It fell out of mainstream use by the 1960's, and is no longer practiced today.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You've watched a video! Check out the next video or take the quiz to keep learning.
Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you earn course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, try again.
You now have full access to our lessons and courses, watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You just finished your first lesson. Study.com has thousands of lessons to help you meet your educational goals.
You're making great progress. Keep it up!
Congrats on viewing 10 lessons! You're doing great.
Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you earn course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, try again.
You're getting the hang of this! Keep taking quizzes to make progress on your learning goals.
Look how far you've come! Take all the quizzes in a chapter and you'll master this topic in no time.
Keep clicking that 'next lesson' button whenever you finish a lesson and its quiz.
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate and you'll be done before you know it.
Two days in a row, nice! Keep your streak going to get the most of your learning and reach your goal faster.