The Changing Face of Treatment

Psychiatry Gone Wrong

The fast growing of the therapeutic gospel after World War II was embedded into a brief but drastic wave of exposure about harsh mistreatment of patients in mental asylums. The most well-known of these reports was published as early as 1946 in Life. Entitled Bedlam, 1946, author Albert Meisel used that magazine’s style of oversized photos to shock the nation about conditions in asylums which he compared at some point to Nazi concentration camps; at that time, with the images of the just recently liberated camps still in mind, a highly debatable yet powerful comparison.

Early Hollywood participated in this trend to scandalize the conditions in mental asylums. In The Snake Pit (1948), actress Olivia de Havilland finds herself in such an institution, terroirized by realizing the horrible circumstances there but also being treated by a very alternative to just locking away people who seem to be mentaly ill. 


Although the Nobel Prize for Medicine of 1949 was awarded to the Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy/lobotomy, such psychosurgical operations became hightly controversial at that point in time. But the U.S.A. was actually only slow in getting rid of that procedure with its techniques of invasive brain surgery which almost always altered the personality of people completely in an effort to control a considered ill mind. A 1977 report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research documents such treatment.

The ways in which lobotomies could be used to control untruly mind are most famously depicted in Ken Kesey's novel from 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which protagonist McMurphy seems to receive a lobotomy as a form of punishment for disresprecting the authority of the asylum's staff. Kesey's novel became even more popular after Hollywood adopted it into a hightly successful movie starring, Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy.