Psychiatry's Electroconvulsive
               SHOCK TREATMENT
           A Crime Against Humanity

                                 by Lawrence Stevens, J.D.

What used to be called electroshock or electric shock treatment
(EST) is now usually called "electroconvulsive therapy", often
abbreviated ECT.  The term is misleading, because ECT is not a form
of therapy, despite the claims of its supporters.  ECT causes brain
damage, memory loss, and diminished intelligence.  An article in
the March 25, 1993 New England Journal of Medicine says "ELECTRO-
CONVULSIVE therapy is widely used to treat certain psychiatric
disorders, particularly major depression" (p. 839).  The March 26,
1990 issue of Newsweek magazine reports that "electroconvulsive
therapy (ECT) . . . is enjoying a resurgence.  . . .  an estimated
30,000 to 50,000 Americans now receive shock therapy each year" (p.
44).  Other recent estimates go as high as 100,000 per year.
                  In his textbook Psychiatry for Medical Students,
published in 1984, Robert J. Waldinger, M.D., says "ECT's mechanism
of action is not known.  . . .  As with the other somatic therapies
in psychiatry, we do not know the mechanism by which ECT exerts its
therapeutic effects" (pp. 120 & 389).  Psychiatrists claim
unhappiness or so-called depression is sometimes caused by unknown
biological abnormalities in the brain.  They say by some unknown
mode of action ECT cures these unknown biological abnormalities.
There is no good evidence for these claims.  Other than by causing
mental disorientation and memory loss, ECT does not help eliminate
the unhappy feeling called depression.  This is true even though
currently unhappiness or "depression" is the only "condition" for
which ECT is a recognized "therapy".  Indeed, rather than eliminat-
ing depression, the memory loss and lost mental ability caused by
ECT has caused some subjected to ECT so much anguish they have
committed suicide after  receiving the "treatment".
               ECT consists of electricity being passed through the
brain with a force of from 70 to 400 volts and an amperage of from
200 milliamperes to 1.6 amperes (1600 milliamperes).  The electric
shock is administered for as little as a fraction of a second to as
long as several seconds.  The electrodes are placed on each side of
the head at about the temples, or sometimes on the front and back
of one side of the head so the electricity will pass through just
the left or right side of the brain (which is called "unilateral"
ECT).  Some psychiatrists falsely claim ECT consists of a very
small amount of electricity being passed through the brain.  In
fact, the 70 to 400 volts and 200 to 1600 milliamperes used in ECT
is quite powerful.  The power applied in ECT is typically as great
as that found in the wall sockets in your home.  It could kill the
"patient" if the current were not limited to the head.  The elec-
tricity in ECT is so powerful it can burn the skin on the head
where the electrodes are placed.  Because of this, psychiatrists
use electrode jelly, also called conductive gel, to prevent skin
burns from the electricity.  The electricity going through the
brain causes seizures so powerful the so-called patients receiving
this so-called therapy have broken their own bones during the sei-
zures.  To prevent this, a muscle paralyzing drug is administered
immediately before the so-called treatment.  Of course, the worst
part of ECT is brain damage, not broken bones.
                Electricity is only one of several ways psychiatrists
have induced seizures in people for supposedly therapeutic
purposes.  According to psychiatrists, seizures induced by
chemicals or gas inhalants are just as effective, psychiatrically
speaking, as ECT.  In September 1977 in the American Journal of
psychiatry professor Max Fink, M.D., said: "Seizures
may also be induced by an anesthetic inhalant, flurothyl, with no
electrical currents, and these treatments are as effective as ECT"
(p. 992).  On the same page he said seizures induced by injecting
a drug, pentylenetetrazol (Metrazol), into the bloodstream have
therapeutic effects equal to seizures induced with ECT.
                It's interesting, to say the least, that any of these
three very different seizure producing agents - flurothyl gas
inhaled through a gas mask, Metrazol injected with a hypodermic
needle, or electricity passed through the head - could be equally
psychiatrically "therapeutic".  Psychiatrists say that it is the
seizure that is "therapeutic", not the method of inducing the
seizure.  But why would seizures induced by any of these three very
different methods be equally "therapeutic"?
                One theory is they are all equally horrifying to the
victim (the "patient") who receives the "treatment".  In his book
Against Therapy, published in 1988, psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson,
Ph.D., asks: "Why do psychiatrists torture people and call it
electroshock therapy?" (p. xv).  In his book Battle for the Mind:
A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing
, William Sargant said
"The history of psychiatric treatment shows, indeed, that from time
immemorial attempts have been made to cure mental disorders by the
use of physiological shocks, frights, and various chemical agents;
and such means have always yielded brilliant results in certain
types of patient" (p. 82).  In his book Breakdown, psychologist
Norman S. Sutherland points out that in his observations ECT "was
widely dreaded", and he says "there are many reports from patients
likening the atmosphere in hospital on days when ECT was to be
administered to that of a prison on the day of an execution" (p.
                Defenders of ECT say that because of the addition of
anesthesia to make the procedure painless, the horribleness of ECT
is entirely a thing of the past.  This argument misses the point.
It is the mental disorientation, the memory loss, the lost mental
ability, the realization after awaking from the "therapy" that the
essence of one's very self is being destroyed by the "treatment"
that induces the terror - not only or even primarily physical
suffering.  ECT, or electroshock, strikes to the core personality
and is terrifying for this reason.  As was said by Lothar B.
Kalinowsky, M.D., and Paul H. Hoch, M.D., in their book Shock
Treatments, Psychosurgery, and Other Somatic Treatments in
: "Fear of ECT, however, is a greater problem than was
originally realized.  This refers to a fear which develops or
increases only after a certain number of treatments.  It is
different than the fear which the patient, unacquainted with the
treatment, has prior to the first application.  . . .  'The
agonizing experience of the shattered self' is the most convincing
explanation for the late fear of the treatment" (p. 133).  One way
ECT achieves its effects is the victims of this supposed therapy
change their behavior, display of emotion, and expressed ideas for
the purpose of avoiding being tortured and destroyed by the
"therapy".  Refusing to take ECT doesn't always work, because ECT
is often administered against the "patient's" will.  In The Powers
of Psychiatry
, published in 1980, Emory University Professor Jonas
Robitscher, J.D., M.D., said "Organized psychiatry continues to
oppose any restrictions by statute, regulation, or court case on
its 'right' to give shock to involuntary and unwilling patients"
(p. 279).  Even now in the 1990s only one state in the United
States - Wisconsin - prohibits all involuntary administration of
             Since the "patient's" fear of ECT is one of the things
that makes ECT "work", psychiatrists often get results by merely
threatening people with ECT.  As psychiatrist Peter R. Breggin,
M.D., says in his book Electroshock: It's Brain Disabling Effects:
"For patients who witness these [brain disabling] effects without
themselves undergoing ECT, the effect of ECT is nonetheless
intimidating.  They do everything in their power to cooperate in
order to avoid a similar fate" (p. 173).
                Another way ECT achieves its effects is by damaging the
brain.  In the words of Lee Coleman, M.D., a psychiatrist: "The
rationale for electroshock was formerly couched in psychoanalytic
terms, with punitive superegos sometimes requiring repeated shocks
of 110 volts for appeasement.  Only then could guilt be assuaged
and discontent be relieved.  It is much more common now to hear
equally absurd neurophysiological explanations, this time the idea
being that these electrical assaults somehow rearrange brain
chemistry for the better.  Most theorists readily agree, however,
that these are speculations; in fact, they seem to take a certain
satisfaction in shock treatment's supposedly unknown mode of
action.  . . .  The truth is, however, that electroshock 'works' by
a mechanism that is simple, straightforward, and understood my many
of those who have undergone it and anyone else who truly wanted to
find out.  Unfortunately, the advocates of electroshock
(particularly those who administer it) refuse to recognize what it
does, because to do so would make them feel bad.  Electroshock
works by damaging the brain.  Proponents insist that this damage is
negligible and transient - a contention that is disputed by many
who have been subjected to the procedure.  Furthermore, its
advocates want to see this damage as a 'side effect.'  In fact, the
changes one sees when electroshock is administered are completely
consistent with any acute brain injury, such as a blow to the head
from a hammer.  In essence, what happens is that the individual is
dazed, confused, and disoriented, and therefore cannot remember or
appreciate current problems.  The shocks are then continued for a
few weeks (sometimes several times a day) to make the procedure
'take,' that is, to damage the brain sufficiently so that the
individual will not remember, at least for several months, the
problems that led to his being shocked in the first place.  The
greater the brain damage, the more likely that certain memories and
abilities will never return.  Thus memory loss and confusion
secondary to brain injury are not side effects of electroshock;
they are the means by which families (perhaps unwittingly) and
psychiatrists sometimes choose to deal with troubled and
troublesome persons.  Many of us would question such a dubious
means of obliterating, rather than dealing with, emotional
distress" (From the Introduction, The History of Shock Treatment,
edited by L. R. Frank, p. xiii.)
                Advocates of ECT falsely claim there is no evidence of
brain damage from ECT.  For example, in his book Overcoming
, Dr. Andrew Stanway, a British physician, says "People
often worry that ECT might be damaging their brain in some way but
there is no evidence of this" (p.184).
                In fact, it didn't take long after ECT was invented in
1938 for autopsy studies revealing ECT-caused brain damage to begin
appearing in medical journals.  This brain damage includes cerebral
hemorrhages (abnormal bleeding), edema (excessive accumulation of
fluid), cortical atrophy (shrinkage of the cerebral cortex, or
outer layers of the brain), dilated perivascular spaces in the
brain, fibrosis (thickening and scarring), gliosis (growth of
abnormal tissue), and rarefied and partially destroyed brain
tissue.  (See Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Electroshock: It's Brain
Disabling Effects
for references.)  Commenting on the extent of
physical brain damage caused by electroconvulsive "therapy", Karl
Pribram, Ph.D., head of Stanford University's Neuropsychology
Laboratory, once said: "I'd rather have a small lobotomy than a
series of electroconvulsive shock. . . . I just know what the brain
looks like after a series of shocks, and it's not very pleasant to
look at" (APA Monitor, Sept.-Oct. 1974, pp. 9-10).  Dr. Sidney
Sament, a neurologist, describes ECT this way: "Electroconvulsive
therapy in effect may be defined as a controlled type of brain
damage produced by electrical means.  No doubt some psychiatric
symptoms are eliminated...but this is at the expense of brain
damage" (Clinical Psychiatry News, March 1983, p. 4).  Although he
is a defender of ECT, Duke University psychiatry professor Richard
D. Weiner, M.D., Ph.D., has admitted that "the data as a whole must
be considered consistent with the occurrence of frontal atrophy
following ECT" (Behavioral & Brain Sciences, March 1984, p. 8).  By
"frontal atrophy" he means atrophy (reduced size) of the frontal
lobes of the brain, the frontal lobes being the parts believed to
be responsible for higher mental functions.  The frontal lobes get
most of the electricity in ECT.  Dr. Weiner also admits "Breggin's
statement that ECT always produces an acute organic brain syndrome
is correct" (ibid., p. 42).  Organic brain syndrome is organic
brain disease.
                Psychological testing of those who have had ECT also
indicates ECT causes permanent brain damage.  For example, in an
article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, three psychologists
said "The ECT patients' performance was also found to be inferior
on the WAIS [Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale]" and "The ECT
patients' inferior Bender-Gestalt performance does suggest that ECT
causes permanent brain damage" (Donald I. Templer, Ph.D., et al.,
"Cognitive Functioning and Degree of Psychosis in Schizophrenics
given many Electroconvulsive Treatments" Brit. J. Psychiatry, Vol.
123 (1973), p. 441 at pp. 442, 443).
                In 1989 in his book The Exercise Prescription for
Depression and Anxiety
, psychology professor Keith W. Hohnsgard,
Ph.D., says "Some who receive ECT appear to suffer both serious and
permanent memory loss" (p. 88, emphasis added).  A woman who had
ECT described these effects ECT had on her memory: "I don't
remember things I never wanted to forget - important things - like
my wedding day and who was there.  A friend took me back to the
church where I had my wedding, and it had no meaning to me" (quoted
in: Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Electroshock: It's Brain Disabling Ef-
, p. 36).  Professional people who have sought treatment for
depression and had ECT have lost a lifetime of professional knowl-
edge and skill to this so-called therapy. (See, for example, Berton
Rouche's article in Suggested Reading, below).  In one state,
Texas, a state law requires those considering ECT be warned about
ECT caused memory loss.  But in most states those undergoing ECT
voluntarily do so without any warning of the brain damage and
associated memory loss and intellectual impairment to which they
are about to be subjected - the psychiatrist suggesting ECT usually
being the person least likely to give this warning.
                ECT advocates sometimes claim the addition of anesthesia,
a muscle paralyzing drug, and oxygenation (making the "patient"
breath air or 100% oxygen) prevent ECT-caused brain damage.  But
neither anesthesia nor muscle paralyzing drugs nor breathing oxygen
stop what the electricity does to the brain.  Autopsy study, EEGs,
and observation of those who have received ECT indicate those given
ECT with anesthesia, a muscle paralyzing drug, and forced breathing
of air or oxygen experience the same brain damage, memory loss, and
intellectual impairment as those given ECT without these modifi-
                Some ECT advocates say the newer brief pulse ECT devices
cause less harm than the sine-wave ECT devices that predominated
until the 1980s.  In contrast, one prominent ECT supporter,
psychiatry professor Richard D. Weiner, M.D., Ph.D., cites studies
that "demonstrated sine wave and bidirectional pulse stimuli pro-
duced equivalent amnestic changes" (Behavioral & Brain Sciences,
March 1984, p. 18).  According to University of Chicago psychiatry
professor Richard Abrams, M.D., in his textbook Electroconvulsive
, 400 volts is a typical peak voltage produced by the newer
brief-pulse ECT devices (p. 113).  This is more than double the
highest voltages produced by the older sine-wave machines,
suggesting the newer brief-pulse ECT devices do greater harm.
                Claims that the new "unilateral" ECT in which the
electricity is run through only one side of the head is less
damaging are also false.  The idea is to spare the parts of the
brain responsible for verbal and mathematical skills (non-emo-
tional, computer-like intellectual functions).  These functions are
believed to be located in what is misleadingly called the dominant
side of the brain.  One problem is the difficulty of determining
which side of the brain this is in any particular individual.
Sometimes psychiatrists inadvertently shock the side of the brain
they are trying to spare.  The side of the brain intended to get
the electricity in unilateral ECT is deceptively called the non-
dominant side.  This supposedly non-dominant side of the brain is
primarily responsible for our emotionality and sexuality, artistic,
creative, and musical ability, visual and spatial perception,
athletic ability, unconscious mental functions, and some aspects of
memory.  In the words of neurology professor Oliver Sacks, it is
"of the most fundamental importance" because it provides "the
physical foundations of the persona, the self" without which "we
become computer-like" (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and
Other Clinical Tales,
pp. 5, 20).  The side of the brain electro-
shocked in supposedly non-dominant hemisphere unilateral ECT is at
least as important to us as the other parts of our brains.
                Psychiatrists who use ECT are violating their Hippocratic
oath to not harm patients and are guilty of a form of health care
quackery.  Unfortunately, most psychiatrists have administered ECT,
and government has failed to live up to its responsibility to
protect us from this harmful and irrational "treatment".  It is
therefore left to you to protect yourself and your loved ones from
quackery such as ECT by keeping yourself and your loved ones away
from practitioners who use it.

                                      Suggested Reading

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Electroshock: Its Brain Disabling Effects
(Springer Publishing Co., New York, 1979).

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy, and
Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories
of the "New Psychiatry"
(St. Martin's Press, New York, 1991).

Leonard Roy Frank (editor), The History of Shock Treatment (self-
published, San Francisco, 1978).  Available directly from the
author for $12 postpaid: 2300 Webster St., San Francisco,
California  94115.

John Friedberg, M.D., "Electroshock Therapy: Let's Stop Blasting
the Brain", Psychology Today magazine, August 1975, p. 18.

John Friedberg, M.D., Shock Treatment Is Not Good For Your Brain:
A Neurologist Challenges the Psychiatric Myth
(Glide Publications,
San Francisco, 1976).

John Friedberg, M.D., "Shock Treatment, Brain Damage, and Memory
Loss: A Neurological Perspective",  American Journal of Psychiatry,
Vol. 134, No. 9 (September 1977),  p. 1010.

Berton Rouche, "Annals of Medicine  As Empty as Eve", New Yorker
magazine, September 9, 1974, p. 84.  This biographical article
describes in horrifying detail the extent and permanence of memory
loss caused by electroshock "therapy".

THE AUTHOR, Lawrence Stevens, is a lawyer whose practice has
included representing psychiatric "patients".  His pamphlets are
not copyrighted.  You are invited to make copies for distribution to
those who you feel will benefit.





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