THE MAN WHO SHOT A BULLET INTO HIS BRAIN
AND CURED HIS OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER
by Martha Stark, MD / Faculty, Harvard Medical School
For those of us who are psychodynamically oriented, the following will probably give us pause!
I am remembering an article that I had read, years ago, in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Argyle et al. 1991) about George, a 19-year-old obsessive-compulsive man who had shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt and had ended up curing his mental illness without causing any other damage to his brain.
Apparently, George had dropped out of school and quit his job because, for fear of contamination by germs, his compulsive need to wash his hands hundreds of times a day and to shower continuously throughout the day made it difficult for him to live any kind of normal life.
Dr. Leslie Solyom (a psychiatrist at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, and his some time therapist) describes what then happened as follows: “George was also very depressed and told his mother that his life was so wretched that he would rather die. She said, ‘So look George, if your life is so wretched, just go and shoot yourself.’ So George went to the basement, stuck a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.” Solyom observes, “Parents of obsessive-compulsives, particularly mothers, often have cruel streaks” (as reported in a Los Angeles (AP) 23 Feb 1988 article).
George did not actually die; and the surgeons were able to remove most of the bullet, which had lodged in the left frontal lobe of his brain. They were unable, however, to get out all the fragments.
Dr. Solyom reports that when George was transferred to Shaughnessy Hospital three weeks later, astoundingly “he had hardly any compulsions left.” Presumably, the .22-caliber slug had destroyed the section of his brain responsible for his disabling obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors without causing any additional brain damage or even affecting his IQ.
Over the course of the next five years, George got a job and enrolled in college, where he went on to become a straight A student.
In reflecting upon the case, Dr. Thomas Ballantine (a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston) remarked, “The idea that a man could blow out part of his frontal lobe and have his pathological symptoms cured is quite remarkable, but it is not beyond belief.”
In any event, George’s miraculous release from the tyranny of his obsessive-compulsive disorder was one of many stories that prompted me to think more seriously about expanding my Psychodynamic Synergy Paradigm to include a model that would more directly involve brain-based strategies, including therapeutic memory reconsolidation.
And so it was that my Model 5 (a quantum-neuroscientific approach to therapeutic memory reconsolidation) was birthed and added to my Model 1 (the interpretive perspective of classical psychoanalytic perspective), my Model 2 (the corrective-provision perspective of self psychology and other deficit models), my Model 3 (the intersubjective perspective of contemporary relational theory), and my Model 4 (an existential-humanistic approach to healing brokenness and easing relentless despair).
Argyle N, Solyom C, Solyom L. 1991. The structure of phobias in panic disorder. Brit J Psychiat 159(3):378-382.