Acta Neurochirurgica

, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 625–635 | Cite as

The re-emergence of psychiatric neurosurgery: insights from a cross-national study of newspaper and magazine coverage

  • Laura Y. Cabrera
  • Merlin Bittlinger
  • Hayami Lou
  • Sabine Müller
  • Judy Illes
Original Article - Neurosurgical Techniques



Surgical approaches to treat psychiatric disorders have made a comeback. News media plays an essential role in exposing the public to trends in health care such as the re-emergence of therapeutic interventions in psychiatric neurosurgery that were set aside for decades, and in shaping attitudes and acceptance to them.


We conducted an analysis of media articles covering all types of psychiatric neurosurgery published in Canada, USA, Germany, and Spain between the years 1960 and 2015. We applied both quantitative and qualitative methods to elucidate patterns of reporting for conditions, themes and tone, across geographic regions, time, and for type of intervention.


Coverage of psychiatric neurosurgery has surged since 2001 and is largely consistent across the countries examined. It focuses on depression and deep brain stimulation, and is explicit about historical context. The tone of coverage becomes more positive for Canada, USA and Spain over time; the tone of coverage from Germany remains cautious. Identity and privacy are among the few ethical and philosophical issues raised, notably in the German press.


The focused and optimistic attention to contemporary psychiatric neurosurgery in the media, but inattention to ethical issues, places an extra burden on functional neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, and other frontline health professionals to attend to queries from patients and policy makers about the full range of relevant emergent and emerging interventions and the mental health issues to which they may beneficially apply.


Psychiatric neurosurgery International media coverage Neuroethics Medical ethics Deep brain stimulation 



We would like to acknowledge the support of ERA-NET NEURON Team Grant: Ethical, Legal and Social (ELS) Issues #ERN-144241 and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (01GP1621A). We also thank the other members of the ERA-NET NEURON psychiatric neurosurgery team, including functional neurosurgeons and legal scholars, for their insightful comments regarding this subproject. We would also thank Julia Porter for data collection for Fig. 1. A reference list of the articles included in the sample can be obtained from the corresponding author.


We would like to acknowledge the support of ERA-NET NEURON Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Team Grant: Ethical, Legal and Social (ELS) Issues #ERN-144241 (JI) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (01GP1621A; SM). The sponsor had no role in the design or conduct of this research. JI is Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


  1. 1.
    Bauer MW (2005) Public perceptions and mass media in the biotechnology controversy. Int J Public Opin Res 17(1):5–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Burzaco-Santurntun JA (2005) Neurosurgery in the field of psychiatric illness. In: López-Ibor J, Leal Cercós C, Carbonell Masiá C (eds) Images of Spanish psychiatry. Glosa, Barcelona, pp 1–23Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Deisseroth K (2012) Optogenetics and psychiatry: applications, challenges, and opportunities. Biol Psychiatry 71(12):1030–1032CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Delgado JM (1969) Physical control of the mind. Harper, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Diefenbach GJ, Diefenbach D, Baumeister A, West M (1999) Portrayal of lobotomy in the popular press: 1935-1960. J Hist Neurosci 8(1):60–69CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Diering SL, Bell WO (1991) Functional neurosurgery for psychiatric disorders: a historical perspective. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg 57(4):175–194CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Feldman RP, Alterman RL, Goodrich JT (2001) Contemporary psychosurgery and a look to the future. J Neurosurg 95(6):944–956CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Fram SM (2013) The constant comparative analysis method outside of grounded theory. Qual Rep 18(1):1–25Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gilbert F, Ovadia D (2011) Deep brain stimulation in the media: over-optimistic portrayals call for a new strategy involving journalists and scientists in ethical debates. Front Integr Neurosci 5(16):1–6Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Johnson J (2009) A dark history: memories of lobotomy in the new era of psychosurgery. Med Stud 1(4):367–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gildenberg PL, Krauss JK (2009) History of stereotactic surgery. In: Lozano AM, Gildenberg PL, Tasker RR (eds) Textbook of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery. Springer, Berlin, pp 53–58Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lauber C, Nordt C, Falcato L, Rössler W (2005) Can a seizure help? The public’s attitude toward electroconvulsive therapy. Psychiatry Res 134(2):205–209CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lipsman N, Bernstein M, Lozano AM (2010) Criteria for the ethical conduct of psychiatric neurosurgery clinical trials. Neurosurg Focus 29(2):E9CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Lipsman N, Mendelsohn D, Taira T, Bernstein M (2011) The contemporary practice of psychiatric surgery: results from a survey of north American functional neurosurgeons. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg 89(2):103–110CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Mack N, Woodsong C, MacQueen KM, Guest G, Namey E (2005) Qualitative research methods: a data collectors field guide. Available at: Last accessed 5 July 2017
  16. 16.
    McGinty EE, Kennedy-Hendricks A, Choksy S, Barry CL (2016) Trends in news media coverage of mental illness in the United States: 1995–2014. Health Aff 35(6):1121–1129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Mendelsohn D, Lipsman N, Lozano AM, Taira T, Bernstein M (2013) The contemporary practice of psychiatric surgery: results from a global survey of functional neurosurgeons. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg 91(5):306–313CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mitchell A, Gottfried J, Barthel M, Shearer E (2016) The modern news consumer. Pew Research Center. Available at:
  19. 19.
    Muller JH (1994) Anthropology, bioethics, and medicine: a provocative trilogy. Med Anthropol Q 8(4):448–467CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Müller S, Riedmüller R, van Oosterhout A (2015) Rivaling paradigms in psychiatric neurosurgery: adjustability versus quick fix versus minimal-invasiveness. Front Integr Neurosci 9(27):1–5Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Neumaier F, Paterno M, Alpdogan S, Tevoufouet EE, Schneider T, Hescheler J, Albanna W (2017) Surgical approaches in psychiatry: a survey of the world literature on psychosurgery. World Neurosurg 97:603–634CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Nobel Foundation (1964) Nobel lectures: physiology or medicine, 1942–1962. Elsevier, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Nuttin B, Cosyns P, Demeulemeester H, Gybels J, Meyerson B (1999) Electrical stimulation in anterior limbs of internal capsules in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Lancet 354(9189):1526CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Nuttin B, Wu H, Mayberg H, Hariz M, Gabriëls L, Galert T et al (2014) Consensus on guidelines for stereotactic neurosurgery for psychiatric disorders. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 85(9):1003–1008CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    O’Reardon JP, Cristancho P, Peshek AD (2006) Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and treatment of depression: to the brainstem and beyond. Psychiatry (Edgmont) 3(5):54Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Penfield W, Boldrey E (1937) Somatic motor and sensory representation in the cerebral cortex of man as studied by electrical stimulation. Brain 60:389–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Pressman JD (1998) Last resort: psychosurgery and the limits of medicine. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Racine E, Waldman S, Palmour N, Risse D, Illes J (2007) “Currents of hope”: neurostimulation techniques in US and UK print media. Camb Q Healthc Ethics 16(3):312–316CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Robillard JM, Lo C, Feng TL, Hennessey CA (2016) “A light switch in the #brain”: optogenetics on social media. Neuroethics 9(3):279–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Rosin B, Slovik M, Mitelman R, Rivlin-Etzion M, Haber SN, Israel Z et al (2011) Closed-loop deep brain stimulation is superior in ameliorating parkinsonism. Neuron 72(2):370–384CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Schlaepfer TE (2015) Deep brain stimulation for major depression-steps on a long and winding road. Biol Psychiatry 78(4):218–219CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Schlaepfer TE, Lisanby SH, Pallanti S (2010) Separating hope from hype: some ethical implications of the development of deep brain stimulation in psychiatric research and treatment. CNS Spectr 15(5):285–287CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Valenstein ES (1986) Great and desperate cures: the rise and decline of psychosurgery and other radical treatments for mental illness. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Valenstein ES (1997) History of neurosurgery. In: A history of neurosurgery. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Park Ridge, pp 499–516Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Weiner RD, Reti IM (2017) Key updates in the clinical application of electroconvulsive therapy. Int Rev Psychiatry 29(2):54–62CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Zamiska N (2007) In China, brain surgery is pushed on the mentally ill. Last accessed 23 Aug 2017

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Y. Cabrera
    • 1
  • Merlin Bittlinger
    • 2
  • Hayami Lou
    • 3
  • Sabine Müller
    • 2
  • Judy Illes
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Ethics & Humanities in the Life Sciences, Department of Translational Science and Molecular MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, CCM, Division of Mind and Brain ResearchBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Neuroethics CanadaThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations