Thursday, June 23, 2011

Misconceptions in Psychology and Psychiatry: Electro-convulsive therapy is inhumane

Thanks to a lot of movies, our image about electroconvulsive therapy is pretty biased. Everybody is probably imagining crying patients dragged by the psychiatric ward staff, tied to the bed, while being forced into ECT. It’s not that barbaric but many people believe that it produces a great deal of pain. In movies, even people who don’t show signs of severe depression are treated with ECT and it is often portrayed as a treatment for those with antisocial behavior.Another misconception about ECT is the fact that it is forced upon the patient; however, people sign consent forms to be treated with ECT. There is no abuse involved.
Many people believe it is administered like this:

But what is ECT ?

ECT is used for severe depression, bipolar disorder, or psychotic illnesses and 80% of  people who get this treatment show improvement. It is performed under anesthesia and the person has no memory of the time during the procedure. Its side effects are minimal, there is no evidence that it damages brain function, although memory may be mildly affected a few weeks after the treatment.

Perhaps the negative image it has comes from the fact that ECT was performed without anesthesia at first (in the 40s). It usually caused fractures because the result was a full scale convulsion. The fact that it was done frequently also made it harmful for patients. But nowadays, this treatment is safe, used only when other treatment options don't work and is rarely done involuntary (extreme cases when the patient is unable to give consent or their life is in danger).  

Here's a video of a girl suffering from paranoid schizophrenia talking about her ECT therapy:


  1. BS! It's just a more humane looking form of brain damage since ice pick lobotomies aren't allowed.

  2. ECT does not cause brain lesion and is in no way comparable to ice pick lobotomies...

  3. I'm sorry but there is no evidence that ECT does brain damage.
    Here's a study:
    ECT-induced cognitive deficits are transient, although spotty memory loss may persist for events immediately surrounding the ECT course. Prospective computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging studies show no evidence of ECT-induced structural changes. Some early human autopsy case reports from the unmodified ECT era reported cerebrovascular lesions that were due to agonal changes or undiagnosed disease. In animal ECS studies that used a stimulus intensity and frequency comparable to human ECT, no neuronal loss was seen when appropriate control animals, blind ratings, and perfusion fixation techniques were employed. Controlled studies using quantitative cell counts have failed to show neuronal loss even after prolonged courses of ECS. Several well-controlled studies have demonstrated that neuronal loss occurs only after 1.5 to 2 hours of continuous seizure activity in primates, and adequate muscle paralysis and oxygenation further delay these changes. These conditions are not approached during ECT. Other findings indicate that the passage of electricity, thermal effects, and the transient disruption of the blood-brain barrier during ECS do not result in structural brain damage.

  4. I have to agree with the first comment... 'BS! It's just a more humane looking form of brain damage since ice pick lobotomies aren't allowed.'
    As a professional, you can quote any and all statistics you want. But unless you have had the procedure yourself, as I have, then shut it.
    My 'post ECT confusion' as my pyschologist has called has ALL of the frontal lobe syndrome, specifically orbitofrontal syndrome.
    I was a highly educated (with two college degrees), highly successful young woman. I made my living writing technical reports for the government. And following treatment, I can barely organize my thoughts. Have trouble both reading and writing and comprehending both what is being said to me and what I read.
    ECT IS the modern day lobotomy.

  5. I'm really sorry for what happened to you but anecdotal evidence simply doesn't work for me. Every medical procedure has its risks, even aspirin can be fatal in rare cases when stomach bleeding occurs. Also, anti psychotic medication can also have some pretty bad side effects such as tardive dyskinesia, seizures, dystonias,or parkinsonism. So, my dear when it comes to certain treatments, there will always be somebody who falls into those few percents of bad side effects. I quote statistics because I believe that talking from experience gives absolutely no value to my arguments as one case should not be generalized to all the population.