Echoes From Antiquity: The Inhuman Practice of Trephination in Brain Medicine

old skulls

In the field of psychology, much controversial treatment has been used in the past. It was an attempt to help mentally ill patients, which later turned out to be either not useful or had more advertisement effects on patients than benefits. One such controversial treatment in the history of psychology was Trephination.

In ancient times it was used to heal mentally ill patients or injured people when they met with an accident while hunting or due to any reason and blood was clotted inside the skull. As it was believed that clotted blood can turn into pus and disturb the brain functioning or injured area. So it was used as an emergency surgery method for saving people as well. Let’s talk about trephination in detail.

What is Trephination?

Trephination is also known as trepanning, preparation, or burr holing. The trepanning word comes from the Greek word “Trypanon” which means device for the boring hole. This device was used by the cave dwellers to treat people. In modern practice, the technique of drilling a hole in one’s skull is more commonly known as a craniotomy. Now this technique is used for treating brain lesions or tumours.

Trephination in psychology:

It was believed in the past that mental illness is caused by evil or demonic spirits, the displeasure of gods, eclipses, planetary gravitation, curses, and sin. As mental illness does not show any significant physical reason or change in the brain that’s why people connect it with supernatural power. Due to a lack of knowledge, ancient people used Trephination as a remedy to treat people with mental illness at that time.

How trephination was used?

According to the French physician Paul Broca, ancient physicians were quite familiar with trepanation in which a hole was made in the skull by cutting or drilling it. Trephination of the skull can be performed while the person is living or dead (i.e., post-mortem). For Trephination instrument was used which was made out of flint, obsidian, or harder material such as stone knives, and later with metal such as bronze and copper. The bone that was trepanned was kept by the prehistoric people and may have been worn as a charm to keep evil spirits away.

Why Trephination was stopped?

Up until the 1800s, trepanation was still employed to treat epilepsy and other mental diseases in addition to head traumas. In this treatment, the mortality rate was very high. The mortality rate overweighed the benefits of its use. Also, as psychology research progressed, people became aware of the reason behind mental illness. This indicates that mental illness can occur due to genetic, hereditary, social, psychological and environmental factors and poor coping skills. Gradually this practice fell out of favour in the 19th century.

History of Trephination

The oldest discovered skull showing evidence of trephination dates back to the Mesolithic period – around 6000 B.C. The trephination process can be seen in cave paintings which was found by archaeologist. In ancient time human skulls and trephination kit was also found by them.
In France in 6500 BCE, 40 out of 120 prehistoric skulls found had trepanation holes. At the time only around 40% of people survived the procedure.

Some other Controversial treatment in the field of Psychology:
1) Psychosurgery:

In the 1930s Psychosurgery was practiced for treating mental disorders. Psychosurgery simply means brain surgery to reduce the symptoms of a mental disorder or cure it. In 1940s one such Psychosurgery was lobotomies. It was a controversial treatment as it side effects were huge such as age personality changes.

2) Electroconvulsive therapy:

It is also known as Electroshock therapy. In the 1930s, this therapy was being used by placing electrodes for passion current on the forehead without giving anesthesia to the patient for inducing seizures which lasted for 30 to 60 seconds. Later this theory became safer as anaesthesia was used and the dose of the electric was also reduced to avoid side effects and pain. Still, this therapy can cause Short term memory loss and sometimes heart-related problems. This theory was used to treat patients who were depressed and at risk of Dying by suicide, schizophrenic, and severe mania. This therapy is not used as first-line therapy. This therapy is used when other treatments are working or not significantly improving patients’ symptoms.

3) Magic Mushroom:

The hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms, called psilocybin, may help treat psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. In a study in 2010, it was reported that psilocybin can reduce anxiety and improve the mood of patients with terminal cancer. In 2011 a small study was conducted which showed that people who received moderate levels of psilocybin experienced mystical experiences. The type of experience which is believed to have the greatest long-term psychiatric benefits. In 2012 again a study was conducted and found that 83 percent of the people reported enhancement in their well-being.

4) Deep brain Stimulation:

This treatment is used for OCD, Depression, and Drug addiction patients. This treatment involves implanting a device that sends electrical impulses into the brain. Use of this treatment can bring change in OCD symptoms such as a decrease in anxiety and improvement in mood. They also showed better responses to their therapist after this treatment which they did not do previously.
Food and Drug Administration approved this therapy for OCD patients. For using this treatment they require 5 years of history of treatment which was not beneficial.

5) Transcranial magnetic stimulation:

This treatment was used for treating people with depression. In 2008 this treatment was approved for patients who do not respond to any other treatment. In this treatment method, magnetic fields are used to change the activity in certain regions of the brain. It involves placing an electromagnetic coil on the forehead and does not require surgery.

Psychology is a field of science that is still in the process of discovering better solutions for treating and helping men kind. As exposer of human beings are getting changed or being mistreated each time any new problem comes into the picture. New methods are being practiced to overcome falls or the previously practiced methods.

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