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The Misuse of Electroshock Therapy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1156 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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The Misuse of Electroshock Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy is a psychiatric treatment, primarily used to induce seizures, that was first introduced in the United Kingdom in the early nineteenth century.As time passed, this treatment has developed and has mostly been used to treat clinical depression (Endler NS, 1988). Electroshock therapy was primarily performed on rodents and fish (Duncan, C. P. 1949) , then was introduced by two Italian neurologists- Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini- as a treatment for humans with psychosis and schizophrenia (American Psychiatric Association, 2008). Throughout the years, it has evolved and become a treatment used for a variety of mental illnesses. With its evolvement, a lot of controversy arose, due to cases of misuse- the lack of trained professionals, deceiving patients about its effectiveness, and its safety overall. The debate remains as to whether or not electroshock is an effective form of therapy, or if it is nothing more than abuse and a money-maker.

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Experiments on animals and rodents began in the 1900’s and continued to occur because the shocks given to them were proven to be similar to antidepressant electroconvulsive therapy given to humans. They used experiments to investigate its mechanisms and to understand it completely. After much practice, the first experiment conducted on a human was in 1937, where Ugo Cerletti, and his colleague Lucio Bini attempted to treat patients with schizophrenia by using electroshock therapy.  As a result, they discovered that after ten to twenty treatments, the patient was cured (Theilmann et al. 2014).  After proven to work it electroshock became the most sufficient method of treating asylum inmates.

Statistics show that the use of this therapy has been declining, in 20th century, electroshock was administered 16,482 times in the year 1999 throughout England, whereas it was only administered 12,800 times in 2002 (Statistical Bulletin Department of Health, 2003). It has been used to treat both young and old people (Kelly & Zisselman, 2000; Zorumski et al., 1988). The process of electroshock is done, under anesthesia, with small electric currents, triggering a quick seizure. There have been a lot of ethical questions regarding this type of treatment, those who misuse it, the side effects it is causing to the person in receipt of the treatment, and if it is damaging to the human body. With regards to misuse, there has been controversy regarding the fact of overusing the therapy and misusing it in the sense of abuse.

If performed correctly, electroshock may be effective and safe to administer it to patients with a wide range of medical conditions.  However, the issue of misuse arises as a result of the lack of people who are trained to administer it (Selvin 1987). If it is administered incorrectly, it could do a lot of damage. Side effects include muscle-pain due to the anaesthesia (Benbow, 1989).  Difficulty concentrating or generally retaining new information, headaches, muscle aches and nausea (Pace & Glass, 2001).  Memory loss is one of the side effects that may occur, and according to a survivor, Wayne, the treatment destroyed their memories (LeFrançois, B. A., Menzies, R. J., & Reaume, G., 2013). He claimed that “I have no memory. A part of me is missing forever.” while Maynard, another survivor, completely lost memory of who his aunt and mother were. It has also been reported that there are two to four deaths per 100,000 electroshock treatments (Abrams, 1997, as cited in Kelly & Zisselman, 2000). It was revealed that there is “no evidence that ECT is more effective than placebo for depression reduction or suicide prevention” (Read and Arnold, 2017). Thus, it can be concluded that electroshock is being used for the wrong reasons, such as abuse and torture, as opposed to being a therapy.

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Since it is a big money-maker for the industry, it has been overused throughout the years, with American psychiatrists earning between $300,000 and $500,000 a year (Kohls, 2016). Given this, patients are being deceived into thinking that electroshock if the best form of therapy. Money is a big factor in every industry and is one of the main reasons why this form of therapy has been misused. Electroshock continues to be a therapy used, to this day, because it minimizes the cost and time of providing the person with therapy or hospitalization (Selvin 1987). In the early nineteenth century, people were hesitant to use this form of therapy. As the years have gone by, it has been used a lot more and, like anything, it has been misused as well. When it comes to therapy, shouldn’t the most efficient and safe form be used? There have not been any reports that prove electroshock is efficient, and completely safe. Is electroshock an effective type of therapy, or is it being misused?


  • Benbow, S. M. (1989). The role of electroconvulsive therapy in the treatment of depressive illness in old age. British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 147-152.
  • Dr. Gary G. Kohls (2016). “Electroshock” Psychiatry: ECT Therapy Damages The Human Brain Global Research
  • Duncan, C. P. (1949). The retroactive effect of electroshock on learning. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 42(1), 32-44.
  • Endler, NS (1988). The Origins of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 1988; 4(1): 5–23.
  • Kelly, K. G., Zisselman, M. (2000). Update on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in older adults.Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 48(5), 560-566.
  • LeFrançois, B. A., Menzies, R. J., & Reaume, G. (2013). Mad matters: a critical reader in Canadian mad studies. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc. pp. 151-154
  • Pace, B, & Glass, R. M. (2001). Treating depression with electroconvulsive therapy.The Journal of American Medical Association, 285(10), 1390.
  • Read, J & Arnold, C (2017). Is Electroconvulsive Therapy for Depression more Effective Than Placebo? A Systematic Review of Studies Since 2009 Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 19, Number 1, pp.5-23(19)
  • Selvin, B.L. (1987) Electroconvulsive Therapy – 1987. Anesthesiology, 67 (3), 367-385.
  • Theilmann, et al. (2014) A new method to model electroconvulsive therapy in rats with increased construct validity and enhanced translational value.J Psychiatr Res.  53: 94–98


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