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Electroconvulsive Therapy

 

The acronym ECT stands for "ElectroConvulsive Therapy" (also called EST, for ElectroShock Therapy)  a psychiatric treatment in which electricity is applied to the head and passed through the brain to produce a grand mal or major convulsion. The seizure brought about by the electric stimulus closely resembles, but is more rigorous or strenuous than that found in idiopathic epilepsy or in epilepsy following a wide variety of insults to the brain.
 
Patients given ECT are administered an electric current of sufficient intensity and duration to produce an acute organic brain syndrome, characterized by the classic symptoms of disorientation to time, place, and person; mental deterioration in all intellectual spheres such as abstract reasoning, judgment, and insight; emotional lability with extremes of apathy or euphoria; and overall childlike helplessness.
Animal studies show  diffuse brain damage following ECT: the most common findings are petechial or pinpoint hemorrhages throughout the brain and surrounding blood vessels, as well as areas of gliosis and neuronal degeneration, with patches of cell death (ghost cells and neuronophagia).  Occasionally larger hemorrhages and edema of the brain are found. These findings are also seen on human autopsies performed on ECT patients. 
 

Electroshock treatment (ECT) was developed in 1938 at a time that lobotomy and insulin coma therapy were already in use. Pioneer advocates of ECT openly admitted that it caused irreversible brain damage. In 1979 Dr. Breggin published the first medical book critical of ECT, Electroshock: Its Brain-Disabling Effects (New York: Springer Publishing Company). Dr. Breggin has advocated the banning of ECT, but it continues to be used extensively in most psychiatric facilities. In 1985 Dr. Breggin presented as the scientific expert on the brain-damaging effects of the treatment at the NIH Consensus Development Conference on ECT.

 

See the most comprehensive collection of research and information compiled by Peter R. Breggin MD in 2013 about ECT here.

By far the most up-to-date information of the dangers associated with ECT can be found in a  chapter in Dr. Breggin’s book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition (2008). Dr. Breggin brings together and evaluates dozens of articles demonstrating permanent brain damage from ECT including irreversable severe memory loss and wide spread cognitive disabilities. Many patients lose their ability to practice their professions or to conduct their lives in a normal fashion. Dr. Breggin was the medical expert in the first and only electroshock malpractice suit won by the injured patient. He was also the expert in a recent malpractice suit against an ECT doctor that resulted in a settlement of more than $1 million.

   

 

The Stealth ECT Psychiatrist in Psychiatric Reform

by Peter R. Breggin, MD

first published 2/16/2012 on Huffington Post

David Healy is a psychiatrist working in Wales who first became well-known in 1997 -- three years after my wife and I published the bestseller, Talking Back to Prozac -- as a newbie critic of antidepressants. It was refreshing at that time to have a dyed-in-wool biological psychiatrist take on Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, and he made a contribution to research and to informing the public and the professions of the dangers. But he presented himself as something new and unique without drawing on the work already published and his books were critical of those of us in the reform movement.

Even after Healy was critical of me in his books, we invited him to speak in 2004 at the annual conference of the reform organization I founded, and I specifically asked one attendee not to embarrass him in public when he was speaking. I wanted a "big tent" for psychiatric reform. Healy took the opportunity to interview me for a "historical" book he was writing about ECT and I explained some of the critical scientific literature that he would later leave out or dismiss in his ECT book. At the time, I had no idea that Healy's real underlying commitment was to shock treatment -- so much so that it explained why the biological psychiatrist was criticizing antidepressants. David Healy wanted to justify the need for shock treatment.

Then in 2007 Healy published one of the few books in recent years to unabashedly promote shock treatment: Shock Treatment: A History of Convulsive Therapy in Mental Illness (written with Edward Shorer, a Canadian defender of ECT). Healy's acknowledgement begins, "This book owes a special debt to Max Fink ... " The book even has a photo titled "ECT 'Victory Party,'" featuring Fink and an array of the world's most notorious advocates of shock celebrating the founding of their own pro-shock journal. Until the publication of Healy's book, Fink was the world's best known advocate of ECT -- a man whose testimony in deposition and trial until very recently prevented any patients from winning malpractice suits against shock doctors. The book clearly establishes Healy as heir to the throne of the aging Max Fink as the new face of ECT.

Healy's book states, "the charge of brain damage from ECT is an urban myth" (p. 3) and "Therapeutic convulsions induced by electricity, by contrast [to epilepsy], do not harm the brain and can save lives" (p. 9). His statement, "ECT really does work in illnesses where drugs fail" (p. 7), directly connects to his work in criticizing drugs.

In the next year, 2008, Healy wrote a more informal article in which he summarized his views. Dr. Healy said about brain damage, "ECT rarely, if ever, causes clear clinical evidence of brain damage and has not been shown to do so in animal studies." About memory destruction, he said, "critics have found it difficult to demonstrate memory or other cognitive problems that endure beyond three months." About the effectiveness of ECT, Dr. Healy declared with no uncertainty, "ECT is the most effective treatment for severe depressive disorder."

Healy was selling ECT as a replacement for antidepressants. There was no mention of human service, caring approaches, such as psychotherapy or family therapy, or even of exercise which has also proven as effective as or more effective than antidepressants. He also failed to mention that placebo has proven as effective as or more effective than both antidepressants and ECT -- without producing any brain damage.

Read more here.