Electroshock Therapy

The groundwork for the development of electroshock therapy was laid in 1935, when a Budapest psychiatrist, Von Meduna, observed that epilepsy was extremely uncommon among schizophrenics. He also noted that schizophrenic symptoms tended to disappear after seizures. Accordingly, he set out to find a way to induce epileptic-like convulsions to help schizophrenics. He first tried administering camphor and oil but this did not work out well because it was hard to predict when the convulsions would take place within three days following the inducement. He then tried Metrazol, but this drug caused tense fear and anxiety in patients and resulted in high fatalities. This particular procedure was considered a barbaric form of treatment, therefore, was shortly abandoned. (Coulman 676)
Electroconvulsive therapy was finally introduced in 1938 by two Italian scientists, Cereletti and Bini. In this procedure the patient lay on a padded couch with electrodes attached to his head and an electric current of 70 to 130 volts was administered for a fraction of a second. This shock resulted in convulsions similar to grand-mal seizures, after which the patient was unconscious for several minutes. A muscle relaxant was often given to the patient prior to the treatment to minimize the intensity of seizure activity and prevent side affects such as bone fractures and impaired breathing. Usually, a number of shock treatments were given over a period of days or weeks. Although electrotherapy has not been proven to be effective in the treatment of schizophrenics, it has been found to be highly effective in the treatment of depressives. (Coulman 678)
Diagnosis of ECT over a two week period for the severely depressed is 30 or more treatments, and 10 treatments for the somewhat depressed. However, currently these treatments are not given forcefully-the patient must volunteer for treatment (Boodman 2). Electroshock therapy has also been successful for people who don’t respond to drugs. It has been used on the elderly, those with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, pregnancy and even heart transplants. Many patients respond favorably to the treatment and return for further ECT sessions, since its affects are only temporary. (Cauchon 3)
In actuality, doctors and scientists do not yet understand how ECT works. Recent advances in chemotherapy, another type of therapy used to treat many types of psychological disorders, have reduced the use of ECT. While ECT is still used as a form of therapy, scientists still explore all aspects of it. For now, researches claim there are no serious side affects from electroconvulsive therapy besides memory loss and temporary unconsciousness. However, disturbingly current statistics show that 1 in every 200 ECT treatments is fatal. (Cauchon 2)
Many familiar faces have received ECT in the past, and in some cases, these treatments were not so successful. Actress Vivien Leigh from “Gone With the Wind," received ECT on several occasions. Poet Sylvia Plath described her shock treatments in her 1971 book, “The Bell Jar.” She wrote, “with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant”. Former Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall wrote that ECT helped pull him out of a serious depression in the early 1950s. Ernest Hemmingway fatally shot himself after being released from the Mayo Clinic, where he had undergone ECT. (Boodman 6)
Other extreme side affects of ECT are comparable to this particular one: A report by the FDA through CDRH medical reporting systems cites a 66-year-old female who underwent ECT and suffered severe memory loss. After receiving shock therapy against her will she had forgotten how to cook, knit and even reading was difficult, although she had a Bachelors degree at the time. The FDR reported several other severe memory loss incidences, including memory loss of a foreign language essential to an experienced foreign language teacher. (No Author 2)
Other types of therapy which administer electric current through the central nervous system include electrosleep therapy and surgical implantation of microcircuitry. Although interest in electrosleep therapy has waned in recent years, its possibilities are still being explored. Also referred to as cerebral electrotherapy, electrosleep therapy is much milder than electroconvulsive therapy. In this procedure, a soft mask containing electrodes is placed over the eyes. A mild electric current - - just enough to cause a slight tingly