Thursday, August 11, 2011


Approximately 100,000 people are subjected to electroconvulsive "therapy" each year in the United States. . .

Years ago, I shared a room in a psychiatric ward with a woman who was there in body, but her mind seemed gone. I figured this was her "problem," but no, it was the supposed cure. She had electroconvulsive "therapy" for her depression.

She had many visitors, who all tried to have conversations with her, but there was no one home, and no conversations were had. These visitors held her hand, and she could still smile. Looking back on it, the little smile that she had, which I had interpreted to be "warm and gentle" was the same expression my cat has when I pet her. Animals have a response to touch; we anthropomorphize it and call it happiness.

This woman had been reduced to this level by repeatedly injuring her brain. The doctors considered her a success, for she no longer had any complaints.

We've banned lobotomy, but shock therapy and drugging people to the point of catatonia and brain damage are still okay. A doctor might say, "Oh, this patient is at risk of suicide" as a good reason to resort to such drastic measures, but is this really an improvement? Ask yourself if you'd prefer losing your memories and being in a nearly vegetative state or being suicidally depressed. Can't decide or think this is no-win set of questions?

Well, then you've bumped up against the ridiculous notion of informed consent for ECT.

There is no proof that this barbaric "procedure" is a a treatment. Putting aside any questions about whether or not the illnesses that ECT supposedly treat are actually real diseases, there's the scantest of evidence that ECT has any effectiveness besides providing relief through amnesia. If consent forms wrote this clearly: "ECT may be effective for your depression by erasing your memory of your mental state" people might be cautious. I stress the word might because people will do nearly anything to extricate themselves from their suffering.

Head banging is considered a bad activity. Truth is, if you bang your head enough times, you'll achieve the same exact outcome as electroconvulsive "therapy."

If doctors were hitting patients in the heads with hammers, people would be outraged.


"ECT has been demonstrated to be an effective and safe treatment for many psychiatric disorders."


Two sentences later, one reads, "One review concluded that ECT is only marginally more effective than placebo."

The Mayo Clinic:

"Electroconvulsive therapy seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses."

What does this sentence mean? This is the kind of useless and misleading language that so-called consent forms use.

The Mayo Clinic website goes on to say, "Much of the stigma attached to electroconvulsive therapy is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones, and other serious side effects."

This is an example of a Big Lie. Yes, in the past, patients came away from ECT with broken bones and teeth and the entire procedure looked barbaric. Nowadays, few patients looks so bad afterwards, but essentially that is the only difference. If you care to read more about the evolution of ECT, go here.

Here's more from the Mayo Clinic:

"ECT is much safer today. Although electroconvulsive therapy still causes some side effects, it now uses electrical currents given in a controlled setting to achieve the most benefit with the fewest risks."

Again, this means nothing except we've cleaned up both the procedure and our language about it. We could have done the same thing with lobotomy, but it's gotten too bad a reputation.

It saddens me knowing that it is true that people will do anything to relieve their pain, and that informed consent means nothing. People would consent to lobotomy given the right (or wrong) circumstances.

What saddens me more is that those of us who speak up about this and similar issues in psychiatry are considered "fringe." If one expresses sadness or anger, that immediately disqualifies one's opinion. Shouldn't we be angry or sad about this stuff?

The biggest lie out there is that human beings can be completely objective and rational, and that, indeed, objectivity and rationality are an ideal state. I do not believe this to be so. In fact, I believe the myths of objective rationality are ones that lead to some of the most dangerous thinking and behaviors imaginable.

Image Note: William Hogarth, "In the Madhouse," 1735. Was the treatment of the Mentally Ill really so bad in the past? At least one could play the violin while incarcerated back in the 18th century.


Abigail said...

Have you read Eastern Body, Western Mind:Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self,
by Anodea Judith?
I found it really wonderful and thought you might enjoy it--or parts of it. Likely you have already read it, and possibly reviewed in an older post.....Also Buddhist Brain: The Neuroscience of Happiness--or something like that.

Julie H. Rose said...

Have read neither book, but have read quite a bit about the neurological effects of meditation. Interesting how there's so much evidence that meditation has actual proven positive effects on the brain, and western modalities do not, yet we persist. . .

Nina Worthe said...

I'm late to the party. But yeah, thanks for a thoughtful post. Much like you, I was in a psychiatric hospital some years ago, with a roommate, who went from a passionate, if very, very depressed human being to, well.
Was she even still there? Her mother was content, as her daughter no longer talked about death all the time. She no longer really talked at all, mind you.

I missed her then, acutely. I wonder if she's come back yet?