Electroshock: Restoring the Mind

Electroshock: Restoring the Mind

Electroshock: Restoring the Mind

Electroshock: Restoring the Mind


Electroshock therapy (ECT) has long suffered from a controversial and bizarre public image, a reputation that has effectively removed it as a treatment option for many patients. In Electroshock, Max Fink, M.D., draws on 45 years of clinical and research experience to argue that ECT is now a safe, effective, painless, and sometimes life-saving treatment for emotional and mental disorders. Dr. Fink discusses the development of ECT from its discovery in 1934, its acceptance and widespread use for two decades until it was largely replaced by the introduction of psychotropic drugs in the 1950s, and its revival in the past twenty years as a viable treatment now that undesirable side-effects have been largely removed. He provides case studies of actual patients and the testimonies of their family members to illuminate successful responses. Many disorders, such as depression, mania, catatonia, and schizophrenia, respond well to ECT. We learn what the patient experiences, as the author explains the whole procedure from preparation to recovery. He also shows how anesthesia and muscle relaxation have refined ECT, minimizing discomfort and reducing its risks to a level far lower than many of the psychotropic drugs routinely prescribed for the same problems. An excellent sourcebook for patients, their families, caretakers, and mental health professionals, Electroshock clarifies misconceptions about ECT. For those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, it offers a safe and highly effective treatment.


Electroconvulsive therapy is the most controversial treatment in psychiatry. The nature of the treatment itself, its history of abuse, unfavorable media presentations, compelling testimony of former patients, special attention by the legal system, uneven distribution of ECT use among practitioners and facilities, and uneven access by patients all contribute to the controversial context in which the consensus panel has approached its task.

Consensus Development Conference, 1985

Electroshock is an effective and safe treatment for those with severe mental illness. Yet many consider it so dangerous that they fear it as much as they fear the disease. The controversy is not about its efficacy or its safety, which have been proved, but about the idea that the treatment actually alters the brain, changing a person's personality and character. This mistaken perception has many roots -- in the pain and complications of electroshock's early use; in the confusion with the brain-altering and ineffective treatments of insulin coma and lobotomy, which were introduced at the same time but have long been discarded; in political debates about free will and the role of the nation-state in controlling a citizen's behavior; and in fierce philosophical and economic competition among psychotherapists.

Electroshock has undergone fundamental changes since its introduction 65 years ago. It is no longer the bone-breaking, memory-modifying, fearsome treatment pictured in films. Anesthesia, controlled oxygenation, and muscle relaxation make the procedure so safe that the risks are less than those which accompany the use of several psychotropic drugs. Indeed, for the elderly, the systemically ill, and pregnant women, electroshock is a safer treatment for mental illnesses than any alternative.

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