Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is established as a therapy for movement disorders, and it is an investigational treatment in other neurologic conditions. DBS precisely targets neuroanatomical targets deep within the brain that are proposed to be centrally involved in the pathophysiology of some neuropsychiatric illnesses. DBS is nonablative, offering the advantages of reversibility and adjustability. This might permit therapeutic effectiveness to be enhanced or side effects to be minimized. Preclinical and clinical studies have shown effects of DBS locally, at the stimulation target, and at a distance, via actions on fibers of passage or across synapses. Although its mechanisms of action are not fully elucidated, several effects have been proposed to underlie the therapeutic effects of DBS in movement disorders, and potentially in other conditions as well. The mechanisms of action of DBS are the focus of active investigation in a number of clinical and preclinical laboratories. As in severe movement disorders, DBS may offer a degree of hope for patients with intractable neuropsychiatric illness. It is already clear that research intended to realize this potential will require a very considerable commitment of resources, energy, and time across disciplines including psychiatry, neurosurgery, neurology, neuropsychology, bioengineering, and bioethics. These investigations should proceed cautiously.