ECT: Pros vs. Cons

I haven’t had any experience with ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy), but unfortunately, many others have – and not voluntarily. One reader of Furious Seasons, SS, details her traumatic experience with the treatment. Another reader, Crazy Tracy, explains how ECT saved her sanity.

For those who don’t know ECT – informally dubbed "electroshock" therapy – "involves the application of electrical stimulation to the brain using two electrodes attached to the scalp, resulting in a seizure." (ect.org) While there are many people who have benefited from ECT, there are just as many who haven’t. ECT’s reported side effects include memory loss (the biggest complaint) and the loss of some physical and cognitive functioning. Juli Lawrence, owner of ect.org, describes the controversy surrounding ECT:

"Since that time, the ECT industry has repudiated the complaints of ECT patients. Instead of trying to listen to the patients and find a solution to the problems, the industry has been on the attack, attempting to discredit those who speak out. They have taken a wide range of people and categorized them into one group of people: antipsychiatry and Scientologists. If that doesn’t deflect the attention away from those speaking out, they tell the public and media that they are too mentally ill to understand what’s going on.

Cancer patients are very aware – and told upfront – what the results may be with chemotherapy. ECT patients are not.

Instead, the industry bristles at any criticism, and points to a badly-designed study that concluded the majority of patients were happy with their ECT treatment. They do not mention that nearly half of the original participants either dropped out after treatment, or refused to participate."

The main issue about ECT is not so much whether it should be used or not (I’m not a fan of it), but rather letting patients make informed decisions about using that form of therapy. There are instances of forced ECT, which all patients seem to be against. Unfortunately, mental health professionals don’t seem to see it the same way, which is a shame. Furious Seasons linked to MindFreedom.org that has a campaign running to prevent NY State from forcing ECT on a patient who repeatedly refuses it. Perhaps VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulator) would be a better option. I haven’t heard as many side effect complaints from that – if any at all.

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1 Comment

  1. Dr Shock said,

    July 14, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), indeed side effects are rare but so is efficacy off VNS. Mostly ECT is used when all other options have failed.
    For diffferent views on side effects of ECT please see:
    http://ectweb.blogspot.com/2007/06/sackeims-letter-to-editor-about-memory.html
    http://ectweb.blogspot.com/2007/07/complaints-of-loss-of-personal-memories.html


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