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Biological Therapies: Drugs and ECT
Psychosurgery is now an extremely rare biological treatment for psychological disorders, it involves
damaging the brain.
In the 1950s, the amygdala (which is linked to emotions and anger) was purposely damaged in
over-aggressive people to reduce their levels of violence.
Frontal Lobotomy was used throughout the 1940s and 50s as a treatment for schizophrenia. It
involved cutting pathways between higher and lower centres in the brain. The procedure would
involve a hole being drilled through the skull then moving it up and down.
Evaluation of psychosurgery
Psychosurgery is so rare now that it is hard to measure its effectiveness. When it was a
common treatment, it didn't target the specific symptoms.
Obviously this type of surgery had a lot of ethical issues. There was damage to the brain that
was irreversible and the consequences were unpredictable. Also people with severe
disorders might not have understood the full procedure and therefore unable to give
Electro conclusive therapy (ECT)
This is now only used for severely depressed people for whom medication was ineffective. It is used
when there is a risk of suicide because it has quicker results than antidepressant drugs. It involves
passing a small current through the brain to cause electrical discharges.
How does it work?
An electrode is placed above the non-dominant side of the brain, and the second in the middle of the
forehead. The patient is unconscious while the electric shock is administered and given a
nerve-blocking agent, so the muscles are paralysed to stop them from contracting during the
treatment and causing fractures. Oxygen is also given to the patient to compensate for their inability
A small amount of electric current, which lasts about half a second, is passed through the brain. This
current causes a seizure which lasts up to one minute, and this effects the whole brain.
ECT is usually given 3 times a week, with a patient requiring between 3 and 145 treatments.
Why does it work?
Abrams (1997) has concluded that we are no closer to understanding why ECT works. Most
researchers agree that ECT causes changes in the way the brain works, but there is disagreement
about the exact effects that cause improvement. In severe depression, some parts of the brain might
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ECT alters the way the chemical messengers are
acting in the brain which brings about recovery.
ECT can be effective, particularly for severe depression, which works when other treatments
do not. It can be lifesaving, especially when depression is so severe that it could lead to
Comer (2002) states that 60-70% of ECT patients improve after treatment. However,
Sackheim et al. (2001) found that 84% of the patients they studied relapsed within 6 months
of having treatment.…read more
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All drugs used with treating schizophrenia have unpleasant side effects. For example,
long-term treatment with drugs such as Chlorpromazine often led to movement disorders
similar to Parkinson's disease. Clozapine lowers the numer of white blood cells and levels
have to be carefully monitered during treatment.
There are ethical issues involving informed consent and the extent to which a person with
hallucinations can give to this.
The knowledge and action of these drugs in the brain has increased,it has contributed to our
understanding of schizophrenia.…read more