NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Electric Shock Therapy is Making a Comeback

September 9, 2003

Electroconvulsive therapy, once seen as a barbaric practice because it induces brain seizures and was sometimes used against the patients' will, has emerged from the dark ages. Not only do more organizations accept it use, more procedures are being performed.

For instance, the hospital associated with Harvard Medical School has almost doubled its caseload in the last seven years to 3,000 treatments per year. While its effects on the brains are still not fully understood and it doesn't help all who try it, ECT is once again a widely accepted treatment for cases of severe depression, some psychoses and catatonia.

  • Gone are the days when patients withered and bucked on the treatment table as teams of medical staff fought to hold them down.
  • The fact that ECT is helping some patients is good news since at least 20 percent of depressed patients don't respond to medication despite major advances in drug therapy.
  • Despite the progress in shock administration, ECT is not likely to become as common as medication for treating depression.

About one-third of patients suffer memory loss. However, according to the British Royal College of Physicians, about 80 percent of patients are satisfied with their treatment.

Source: Faith Arner, "Shock Therapy Leaves the Cuckoo's Nest," Business Week, September 8, 2003.


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