"It is a good bet that history will view ECT as one of what neuroscientist and author Elliot S. Valenstein calls 'great and desperate cures'—and its promoters as kin to the promoters of lobotomy."  Peter Sterling, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, "ECT damage is easy to find if you look for it", Nature, Vol. 403, 20 January 2000, p. 242

Electroconvulsive "therapy", often abbre­viated ECT, is a misleading term.  ECT is not a therapy, contrary to the claims of its sup­port­ers. ECT damages the brain and cures nothing.  It has been banned in some countries, including Italy, Slovenia, and some cantons of Switzer­land (according to Larry Tye in his ironically titled book Shock: The Healing Power of Electro­convulsive Therapy, Penguin 2006, p. 22, co-authored with Kitty Dukakis).  A January 28, 2011 WebMD report says "As many as 100,000 patients receive ECT each year in the U.S., mostly for severe depression or other disorders that do not respond to medications" ("Electro­con­vulsive Therapy Under New Scrutiny" by Todd Zwillich & Laura J. Martin, M.D.)  Psychologist Harold Sackeim, Ph.D., one of the world's most well-known researchers on ECT, estimates that worldwide two million people have ECT each year ("Sackeim says 2 million a year have ECT", YouTube.com, accessed July 12, 2012).
       A U.S. Surgeon General report in 1999 says "The exact mechanisms by which ECT exerts its therapeutic effect are not yet known."  In Un­hinged: The Trouble With Psychi­atry, a book published in 2010, psychiatrist Daniel J. Carlat, M.D., says "The major problem with ECT is iden­ti­cal to the problem with psychiatric medi­cation.  While ECT works, we have no idea how or why" (Free Press, p. 167).  A WebMD report updated January 11, 2013 says "It is not known exactly how this brain stimulation helps treat depression.  ECT probably works by altering brain chemicals..."
          In fact, the way ECT works is known.  Claiming its mechanism of action is unknown conceals ECT's actual mode of action: It damages the brain sufficiently to impair whatever thinking the "patient" was engaging in.  It therefore can be and is used to eliminate anything that is disliked in human mentality, not only depression but (so-called) schizophrenia, mania, catatonia, bi-polar (or manic-depressive) disorder, delusions, anxiety — whatever.  An example is a woman for whom I filed an amicus curiae brief with a New York court in 2013 whose psychiatrist sought to give her ECT over her objection because she thought she had cancer, which the psychiatrist said was a delusion.  Because ECT is not selective, it also reduces or eliminates good aspects of human mentality, including intelligence, memory, and normal human emotions.  When used for depression, ECT makes the "patient" no longer re­mem­ber what he (or more often, she) was unhap­py about and ruins the "patient's" ability to think clearly about whatever was troubling him.
     Psychiatrists often claim severe unhap­pi­ness or so-called depression, for which ECT is often used, is caused by unknown biologi­cal abnor­mal­ities in the brain and that by some un­known mode of action ECT corrects these un­known biologi­cal abnormalities.  This nonsensical claim is at best specu­lation, and there is no valid evidence for it.  In his book The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Anti­de­press­ant Myth (Basic Books 2010, pp. 100 & 177), psy­chologist Irving Kirsch, Ph.D., says, "Depression may result from a normally functioning brain  ...  Depression may not even be an illness at all."  Depression cannot be "treated" because it is not a disease.  It is a normal response to sad events or unmet needs.  People become depressed because they live depressing lives, not because of a chemical imbalance or other malfunction in their brains.
        ECT is also used to frighten or torture the "patient" into con­formity with others' expectations.
           ECT, often called electroshock or shock treatment, con­sists of as little as 20 volts (Carlat, Unhinged, p. 162) to as much as hundreds of volts being passed through the brain: The Thymatron System IV electro­shock machine specifications say the "stimulus output" is limited to 450 volts with a constant 0.9 amp current and a duration of up to 8 seconds.  A WebMD report titled "Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)" updated January 11, 2013, says "The electrical stimu­lation, which lasts up to 8 seconds, produces a short seizure."  Eight (8) seconds is a long time to have up to 450 volts surging through your head.  If you've ever gotten a jolt from an elec­trical outlet, which is 110 to 120 volts (in North America, up to 240 volts in other countries), you won't doubt this.  The electrodes are placed on each side of the head at about the tem­ples, or sometimes on two places on the same side of the head so the electrici­ty will pass through just the left or right side of the brain (which is called "unilater­al" ECT).  Psy­chia­trists falsely claim ECT consists of a very small amount of electric­ity being passed through the brain.  For example, Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., a University of Iowa psychiatry professor, in her book for the lay public describes electroshock as "passing a very small amount of electricity through the brain" (The Broken Brain, Harper & Row 1984, p. 207, italics added), and nowhere in her book does she mention any numbers indicating how much elec­tricity is used.  The American Psychiatric Association's model "ECT Consent Form" says the electricity used in ECT is "a small, carefully controlled amount of electricity", and it also omits mention of the actual numbers (The Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Recom­men­dations for Treatment, Training, and Privileging — A Task Force Report of the American Psychiatric Association 1990, Appendix B, p. 156).  The power applied in ECT is nowhere close to small.  It could kill the "pa­tient" if the current were not limited to the head.  The elec­tricity in ECT is so great 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 strong the so-called patients sometimes break their own bones during the sei­zures.  To prevent this, a muscle paralyzing drug (called a muscle "relaxant") is admin­istered imme­di­ately before the so-called treat­ment (see, e.g., Carlat, Unhinged, p. 163).
      In September 1977 in the American Journal of Psy­chi­atry, 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 says sei­zures induced by injecting a drug, pentyl­enetetra­zol (Metra­zol), into the blood­stream have ther­apeu­tic effects equal to sei­zures induced with ECT.
      Why would seizures in­duced by any of these very differ­ent meth­ods — gas inhaled through a gas mask, electricity passed through the head, or a drug injected into the bloodstream — be equally "therapeutic"?
      One answer is found in Understanding the Brain, a course consisting of 18 hours of recorded lectures by Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., Profes­sor of Cell & Developmental Biology at Vander­bilt Uni­versity School of Medicine, and Professor of Neurosciences at Vanderbilt Uni­versity College of Arts and Sciences.  She says "Each time a seizure oc­curs, neu­rons die" and that therefore "it is very impor­tant to control sei­zures" (Teaching Company 2007, Lecture 6).  Psychiatrists eliminate "bad" (but also good) think­ing and behavior by inducing sei­zures and killing neu­rons.
      What are neurons?  Wikipedia tells us "Neur­ons are the core com­po­nents of the ner­vous system, which in­cludes the brain" (Wikipedia, "Neuron", ac­cessed April 5, 2011).  The same point is made in a medical school textbook, Basic Clinical Neuroscience, Second Edition (Wolters Kluwer-Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2008), written by three Saint Louis University School of Medicine professors: Paul A. Young, Ph.D., Professor and former Chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Paul H. Young, M.D., Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, and Daniel L. Tolbert, Ph.D., Professor of Anatomy and Surgery.  On page 1 they say "The basic functional unit of the nervous system is the neuron."  Also on page 1 they say "Neurons respond to stimuli, convey signals, and process information that enable the awareness of self and surroundings; mental functions such as memory, learning, and speech, and the regulation of muscular contraction and glandular secretion."  On pages 9 & 10 they say "All functions of the CNS [Central Nervous System], that is, awareness of sensations, control of movements or glandular secretions, and higher mental functions, occur as the result of the activity of excitatory and inhibitory synapses on neurons".  They also say "Nerve cells are extremely fragile" and that "The brain and spinal cord [are] also very fragile" (p. 2).
      In Lecture 9 of her Understanding the Brain course, Dr. Norden says "An abnormal electrical discharge could set up seizures in the brain or could even kill neurons."  According to Dr. Mogens Dam, neurology professor at Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, "Not only convulsive seizures are thought to damage the brain.  New investigations indicate that the abnormal electrical activity accom­panying even minor attacks as partial seizures may also lead to cells dying" ("How the Brain Works", http://www.epilepsy.dk, accessed July 1, 2011).  According to Jack M. Parent, M.D., neurology professor and director of the Neurodevelopment and Regeneration Laboratory at the University of Michigan Medical School, "In some experi­ments, electrical stimulation is used to induce seizures in rats (referred to as 'electrical kindling').  These studies have shown that certain populations of brain cells may die after single or repeated brief seizures" ("Do Seizures Damage the Brain?", also at http://www​.epilepsy​.com/​articles/​ar_​1064856376, accessed July 1, 2011).



      Some neuroscientists believe lost neurons are never replaced.  Among them are the three Saint Louis University School of Medicine professors who wrote the above cited neuroscience textbook:

All cells in the human body are able to reproduce, except nerve cells.  As a result, the loss of neurons are irreparable; a neuron once destroyed can never be replaced.  ...the degeneration of neuronal cell bodies anywhere in the nervous system and the degeneration of the CNS [Central Nervous System] axons are irreparable. [Basic Clinical Neuroscience, 2nd ed., p. 13]

In Understanding the Brain, Professor Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., says "Neurons are non-mitotic cells, and that means that if they are damaged and they die they are not replaced" (Lecture 7).  In his book When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neuro­surgery (Fawcett Crest 1996, pp. 3-4), neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, Jr., M.D., says this:

Unlike other parts of the body, the brain and spinal cord have little capacity for self-repair.  If a general surgeon injures a piece of bowel during an abdominal operation, she simply stitches the injury, or if that's not possible, removes the injured segment.  With eight yards of bowel there's plenty to spare.  Even a trashed heart or liver is replaceable.  But when I cut a nerve, it stays cut.  Neuro­surgeons do things that cannot be undone.

      There are neuroscientists who believe brain cells (neurons and supporting cells called glia) can regenerate.  A National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) publication updated on December 8, 2005 titled "The Life and Death of a Neuron" says this:
Until recently, most neuro­scien­tists thought we were born with all the neurons we were ever going to have.  ...  For some neuroscientists, neurogenesis in the adult human brain is still an unproven theory.  ...  Although the majority of neurons are already present in our brains by the time we are born, there is evidence to support that neurogenesis (the scientific word for the birth of neurons) is a lifelong process. [NIH Publication No. 02-3440d, http://​www​.ninds​.nih​.gov/​disorders/​brain_basics/​ninds_neuron​.htm, accessed July 1, 2011]

If in fact brain cells can regenerate, that may explain why persons given electroshock regain some of the thinking and learning ability and memories they lost to the "treatment" after enough time has gone by after the so-called treatment.  However, the experience of persons given electro­shock suggests this recovery of memory and ability is not complete but only partial.
      Lee Cole­man, M.D., a psychia­trist, says this about ECT:
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 by 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.  [The History of Shock Treatment, edited by Leonard R. Frank, p. xiii.]

      Psychiatrists who administer ECT claim there is no evidence ECT causes brain damage.  For example, in his book Hippocrates Cried: The Decline of American Psychiatry (Oxford University Press 2013, pp. 94 & 98), psychiatrist Michael Alan Taylor, M.D., says this:
In contrast to the public image of ECT, and after years of treating patients suffering from mood disorders and patients with other severe behavioral syndromes, many of these patients also treated with ECT, participating in ECT research, and considering all the alternatives, I detailed in my medical advanced directives that if I had any one of those behavioral syndromes, that I did not want any of the other treatments commonly pre­scribed, I want ECT.  ...  Some patients receiving ECT also lose memories of events that occurred during the weeks before treatment started.  This information loss is spotty but permanent.  It is never widespread and does not involve future long-term information storage.  Patients do not forget their lives, their biographical information, their skills, or their stores of knowledge.  Personalities don't change.  There is no brain damage.  Those who say there is damage are either ignorant, have been misled, or are being purposely misleading.

Similarly, a publication of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH) states reassuringly, "Electro­convulsive therapy (ECT) is a very effective and generally safe treatment..." (Electroconvulsive Therapy:Medline Plus Medical Encyclo­pedia, updated 8/1/2012).
      But 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.  Psychiatrist Peter R. Breggin, M.D., carefully documents the evidence for each of these types of brain damage caused by ECT in his book Electroshock: It's Brain Disabling Effects (Springer Publishing 1979).  Carl Walker, J.D., M.D., a Bexar County, Texas Medical Examiner, was my Legal Medicine professor at St. Mary's University School of Law.  In a class lecture, Dr. Walker said during autopsies of brains of people who had ECT he found fibrous bands of scar tissue between the electrode place­ment points where normal brain tissue had been destroyed and replaced by scar tissue.  Com­menting on the extent of brain damage caused by ECT, neurosurgeon Karl H. Pribram, M.D., 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).  Sidney Sament, M.D., 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).  The frontal lobes, which are responsible for higher mental functions, get most of the electricity in ECT and shrink as brain cells die.  Dr. Weiner also admits "Breggin's state­ment that ECT always pro­duces an acute organic brain syndrome is correct" (Id., p. 42).  Organic brain syndrome is organ­ic brain disease.  In Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition (Springer Publishing 2008, p. 237), Dr. Breggin says "There is also an extensive literature confirming brain damage from ECT.  The damage is demonstrated in many large animal studies, human autopsy studies, brain wave studies, and an occasional CT scan study."  He concludes "ECT is a wholly irrational, unjustifiable treatment" (p. 226).
      In an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, three psychologists say "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", Vol. 123 (1973), p. 441 at pp. 442, 443).
      In Lecture 36 of her Teaching Company course, Understanding the Brain, neuroscientist and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., says "Short of having massive brain damage, what we call IQ doesn't change."  So if ECT causes less than massive brain damage, before-and-after IQ (Intelligence Quotient) testing of persons who receive ECT will show no change in IQ.  However, before-and-after IQ testing of persons given ECT typically shows a loss of 20 to 40 points.  In his book Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition, psychiatrist Peter Breggin includes a case study of a woman he titles "A Life Destroyed by ECT" wherein he says after ECT "Her overall IQ had dropped 20 points" (p. 220).  In her book Doctors of Deception—What They Don't Want You to Know About Shock Treatment (Rutgers University Press 2009, pp. 8, 181), Linda Andre cites cases of herself and others who had IQ tests before and after ECT: "Those of us who had prior IQ test scores for before and after comparison found we'd lost roughly the same number of IQ points — thirty to forty.  In all our cases, the results indicated acquired brain injury."  Lowered Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in persons given ECT strongly indicates ECT causes brain damage that is neither trivial nor transient, as those who promote ECT claim, but massive and permanent.
      According to neurologist John Friedberg, M.D., in his book Shock Treatment Is Not Good For Your Brain—A Neurologist Challenges the Psychiatric Myth (Glide Publications 1976, pp. 29 & 31, italics in original), "the EEGs [electroencephalographs] of the subjects of shock therapy are always abnormal.  ...  when careful tests and objective measurements are applied, the only consistent effect of ECT is brain damage."
      In Understanding the Brain, Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., says of Alzheimer's disease, "One of the truly horrible things about this disease is that it robs the person of the sense of themselves because it robs them of the memories of their lives" (Lecture 33).  The same can be said of ECT.  A woman who had ECT describ­ed these effects of ECT 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 Ef­fects, p. 36).  Another woman found "ECT made her forget everything from her daughter's recent birthday party to whether she had a husband" (Larry Tye, Shock: The Healing Power of Electro­convulsive Therapy, p. x, italics added).  An article in 1980 says one of the effects of shock treatment is "Life-ruining long-term memory loss; some patients have even forgotten they had children" (Carlyle C. Douglas, "Shock Therapy Makes Patients Suffer and Doctors Rich", Moneys­worth, August 1980, p. 14).  In 2001 I heard a State Repre­sentative who was also a Registered Nurse (RN) tell a New Hampshire legis­lative committee that after ECT one of her patients could not remem­ber his own name.  Pro­fessional people who have sought treatment for depression and had ECT have lost a lifetime of professional knowl­edge and skill to this so-called therapy.  (See, for example, Berton Roueché's article in Recommended Reading, below).  A woman who had ECT at San Antonio State Hospital told me ECT wiped out her entire college education.  In Texas, state law re­quires those considering ECT be warned "there is a division of opinion as to the efficacy" of ECT and its risk of "permanent irrevo­cable mem­ory loss" (Texas Health & Safety Code §578.003).  But in most states people 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.  Psychiatrists usually deceive patients and their families by saying the only adverse effect of ECT is amnesia for events shortly before and shortly after the time of the "treatment".
      ECT advocates deceive the public, patients, legislators, and judges by claiming ECT as administered today is different and less harmful than in the past.  One such claim is the addi­­tion of anesthesia, a muscle paralyzing drug, and oxy­genation (making the "patient" breath air or 100% oxy­gen) prevent ECT-caused brain dam­age.  In fact, neither anes­thesia nor muscle paralyz­ing drugs nor breathing oxygen stop what 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 modifi­cations.
      Some ECT advocates claim a new type of electricity used today, brief pulse, causes less harm than the older type, sine-wave (which is what comes out of a standard 120 volt a.c. household electric outlet).  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 pro­duced equivalent amnestic changes" (Behavioral & Brain Sciences, March 1984, p. 18).  According to Chicago Medical School psychiatry professor Richard Abrams, M.D., in his text­book Electro­convul­sive Therapy, 400 volts is a typical peak voltage produced by the newer brief-pulse ECT devices (Oxford U. Press 1988, p. 113).  This is more than double the highest voltag­es pro­duced by the older sine-wave ma­chines.  The below photograph of an older MedCraft electroshock machine shows a maximum voltage (far right knob) of 170 volts rather than 400 or 450, and a maximum shock duration (lower right knob) of 1.0 second rather than up to 8 seconds delivered by newer ECT devices.  The voltage being more than twice as high, and the shock duration being many times longer, suggest today's electroshock or ECT devices do more harm.

(left click image to enlarge, ← or "Back" to return)

      It is typical in psychiatry for official pronouncements to state the exact opposite of the truth.  An example is the aforementioned article by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Insti­tutes of Health, "Electroconvulsive Therapy" (updated 8/1/2012), which says "Since ECT was introduced in the 1930s, the dose of elec­tricity used in the procedure has been decreased significant­ly" (italics added).
      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.  Concentrating the current in a smaller area of the brain is likely to be more damaging to the affected region of the brain (Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry, p. 438; Breggin, "Brain Damage From Nondominant ECT", American Journal of Psychiatry 143:10 (October 1986), pp. 1320-1321).
      Another problem is psychiatrists usually use higher doses of electricity for "unilateral" than "bilateral" ECT: In one study, psychiatrists used 1½ times seizure threshold for bilateral ECT and 6 times seizure threshold for "unilateral" ECT (Kellner, et al, "Bifrontal, bitemporal and right unilateral electrode placement in ECT: randomised trial", The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196: 226-234): That's 4 times more current for "unilateral" ECT.  An explanation sometimes given is more electricity is needed to cause a convulsion when a smaller portion of the brain is shocked.
      The idea behind "unilateral" ECT is to spare the parts of the brain responsible for verbal (speech) and mathematical skills (non-​emotional, com­puter-like intellectual func­tions).  These functions are believed to be locat­ed in what is misleading­ly called the dominant side or hemis­phere of the brain. In most people, this supposedly dominant cerebral hemisphere is the left hemisphere. However, this is not true in about 5% of right-handed people and 30% of left-handed people, according to psychologist Sally P. Springer, Ph.D. & neurology professor Georg Deutsch, Ph.D., in their book Left Brain, Right Brain—Perspectives from Cognitive Neuro­science, 5th edition, (W.H.Freeman & Co. 1998, p. 22). So a problem is difficulty deter­mining which side of the brain to shock in any particular individ­ual.  Sometimes psychiatrists inadvertently shock the supposedly dominant verbal/mathematical hemisphere of the brain when they are trying to spare it.
      Usually, the side of the brain intended to get the electric­ity in unilateral ECT is 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.  According to psychol­ogist Sally P. Springer & neurology professor Georg Deutsch in their book Left Brain, Right Brain—Perspectives from Cognitive Neuro­science, 5th edition, the concept of cerebral dominance "under­estimates the role of the right hemisphere" (p. 15). They say "the view of the right hemisphere as the minor or passive hemisphere is inappropriate" (p. 18). According to Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine, this sup­posedly non-dominant hemisphere 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, Harper & Row 1985, pp. 5, 20). The side of the brain electro­shocked in suppos­edly non-dominant hemis­phere uni­lateral ECT is at least as impor­tant to us as the other parts of our brains.
      If emotions guide our behavior more than reason, as much evidence and observation suggests, this emotional, supposedly non-­dominant cerebral hemisphere (whether it be left or right in any particular individual) may actually be the dominant hemis­phere.  The verbal, math­emat­ical, and reasoning abilities localized in the supposedly dominant cerebral hemisphere are merely tools we use, not our essential selves.
      In the 2002 edition of his textbook Electroconvulsive Therapy (Oxford University Press), Richard Abrams, M.D., advocates the opposite approach if the patient's livelihood depends on those (he assumes) right-brain, supposedly non-dominant functions.  While acknowl­edging many psychiatrists say "unilateral treatment electrodes should be placed over the right hemisphere in order to avoid the speech areas" (p. 131), he says "In my view ... left unilateral ECT" is "a viable alternate choice for musicians, artists, architects, and others who rely on unimpaired right-hemisphere functioning" (p. 136).  That's right, he says "unimpaired", acknowl­edging electroconvulsive "therapy" impairs the parts of the brain subjected to the electric shock.  But as Dr. Sacks says in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, those supposedly non-dominant cerebral hemisphere functions are "of the most fundamental importance" to everyone.
      ECT's other mode of action is the fear it inspires.  Fear of the "treatment" and harmful effects on the brain also explain why insulin coma "therapy" and seizures induced with no electrical currents, such as by injecting a drug, pentyl­enetetra­zol (Metrazol), into the blood­stream, or forcing the "patient" to inhale a seizure-inducing gas such as fluro­thyl can be as effective as electroshock. In his book Against Therapy, psy­cho­analyst Jeffrey Mas­son, Ph.D., asks: "Why do psychia­trists torture people and call it electro­shock therapy?" (Atheneum 1988, p. xv).  One of my clients at San Antonio State Hospital told me at one point in his past he was unhappy with what was happening in his life and that he therefore "withdrew" and was diagnosed (actually described) as catatonic. He said in response to his catatonia he was given electroshock (ECT), after which, he said, "I came out of it right away."  I asked him why.  He replied, "'Cause I realized, if I didn't, they was gonna kill me!"  In his book Break­down, psychol­o­gist Norman S. Suth­erland points out that in his observations ECT "was widely dread­ed", and "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" (Signet 1976, p. 196).
      Defenders of ECT say the use of anesthesia makes ECT painless.  That argu­ment misses the point.  It is the mental dis­orientation, the memo­ry loss, the lost mental ability, the realiza­tion after awaken­ing from the "therapy" that the es­sence of one's very self is being de­stroyed by the "treat­ment" that is terri­fying.  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 Psychiatry:

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. [Grune & Stratton 1952, p. 133]

      Larry Tye in his book Shock: The Healing Power of Electro­convulsive Therapy, ad­mits ECT can be "personality-oblit­erating" (p. ix).
      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 dissuading psychiatrists from administering or continuing ECT in hopes of avoiding being (further) harmed by ECT. Refusing to take ECT often doesn't work, be­cause psychiatrists can and do give ECT by force, over the so-called patient's objection.  In The Powers of Psy­chi­atry, Emory University Profes­sor Jonas Robit­scher, J.D., M.D., says "Orga­nized psychi­atry contin­ues to oppose any restric­tions by statute, regula­tion, or court case on its 'right' to give shock to involun­tary and unwill­ing patients" (Houghton Mifflin 1980, p. 279).  In Texas, it is illegal to give ECT to a person who is under 16 years of age, or to an unwilling person age 16 or older unless he or she has a court-appointed guardian, and the guardian consents, and not even then if the ward, when competent, indicated he or she would not want electroshock: See Texas Health & Safety Code §578.002 and Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code §137.008 (c).  For this reason, all persons (in Texas and elsewhere) should have an advance psychiatric directive (or "Declaration for Mental Health Treatment") refusing ECT (and all psychiatric drugs: See Psychiatric Drugs—Cure or Quackery?). In 2014 in­volun­tary, court-ordered electro­shock is still done in many if not most states of the U.S.A.  I am aware of recent cases of court-ordered ECT given to unwilling, objecting "patients" in New York and Minne­sota.  In 2013, Connecticut House Bill 5298 "To require the probate court to follow certain procedures before issuing an order for involuntary electroconvulsive therapy" was considered but not passed by the Connecticut Legislature, leaving Connecticut's involuntary electroshock law unchanged.  The annual report for 2011-12 of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland indicates "there were 203 instances in Scotland last year (April 2011-March 2012) when ECT was authorized for non-consenting patients under the Mental Health Act. In 129 instances the patient was described as objecting to or resisting" the administration of ECT ("ECT Without Consent in Scotland 2011-12", accessed August 26, 2014).  A September 2011 "Position Statement on Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)" of The College of Psychiatry of Ireland (accessed August 26, 2014) says "patients may receive ECT without consent, under the rules of the [Ireland] Mental Health Act of 2001."
      Even the thought of government-sanctioned, court-ordered violence such as forcibly administered electroshock (or psychiatric drugs or psychosurgery) should make any normal person shudder.  As psychiatry professor Thomas S. Szasz once said, "violence is vio­lence, regardless of whether it is called psychiatric illness or psychiatric treatment" ("Violence And The Psychiatrist", Freedom magazine, January 1986, p. 26).
      This routine violence against people whose sadness or other thinking or behavior is labeled mental illness is often dishonestly denied.  For example, the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (in NIH Publication No. 11-3561, Revised 2011) falsely states that "patients always provide informed consent before receiving ECT".
      Since the "patient's" fear of ECT is one reason ECT "works", psychia­trists get "cures" 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).
      In his book How to Stop Your Doctor Killing You (European Medical Journal 2003) British physician Vernon Coleman, MB, ChB, DSc(hon) devotes 4½ pages of his chapter "Why Mental Health Care Isn't Always Worth Having" to a critique of ECT.  He says in part:
I've been vehemently critical of ECT for decades.  It has always seemed to me to be a primitive, barbaric and crude form of 'therapy'.  As a medical student I once had to watch it being administered.  I remember feeling deeply ashamed of the profession I was preparing to enter. [p. 119]

    An important motive for administering ECT is profit: Each costs $2,000 to $3,000 ($36,000 for a typical series of 12), according to Larry Tye in his book Shock: The Healing Power of Electrocon­vulsive Therapy (p. 14).  Psychia­trists and their co-workers who administer ECT are engaging in health care quackery, enriching them­selves while harming and terrorizing their so-called pa­tients.
      Yet most psychiatrists have admin­istered ECT.  Psychiatrists usually are required to administer ECT to complete residency training in psychiatry, making it embarrassing and there­fore difficult for them to later admit how harmful the "treatment" is: Thereafter it becomes imperative for them to deny, deny, deny the obvious truth about the brain damage they have inflicted on their so-called patients.  Wide­spread understanding of what electroconvulsive brain damaging or "ECT" does might even lead to criminal prosecution of doctors and their co-workers who administer it.  The trial and criminal conviction and four-year prison sentence of singer Michael Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Robert Murray, after his treatment caused Michael Jackson's death, is a precedent in this regard. (See "Trial of Conrad Murray", wikipedia.org, accessed February 5, 2014).


      When ECT is administered by force after being authorized by a judge, the judge is equally morally culpable despite being protected by judicial immunity.  Legislators who vote for involuntary treatment laws are morally responsible for these crimes against humanity despite being protected by legislative immunity.  The admin­is­tration of ECT (or psychiatric "medi­cation" or psycho­surgery) by force or threat of force to an unwilling person that was authorized by law or court order may relieve the perpetrators of criminal liability, but it does not relieve them of moral responsibility.  Such an assault is not morally justified merely because it was authorized by law or by a judge.
      Unlike some countries, states in the U.S.A. have failed to fulfill their respon­sibil­ity to protect people from cruel, irrational, and damaging "treat­ment" such as ECT.  So if you live in the U.S.A. or another place where government does not protect you, it is left to you to, as best you can, pro­tect your­self and your loved ones by keeping yourself and your loved ones away from psychia­trists who admin­ister ECT.

Recommended Reading

Linda Andre, Doctors of Deception—What They Don't Want You to Know About Shock Treatment (Rutgers University Press, New Bruns­wick, N.J. 2009)

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

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., "Brain Damage From Nondominant ECT", American Journal of Psychiatry 143:10 (October 1986), p. 1320.

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)

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock, and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition (Springer Publishing Co., New York 2008), Chapter 9: "Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) for Depression", pages 217-251.

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, Brain Damage, and Memory Loss: A Neurologi­cal Perspective", American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 134, No. 9 (September 1977), p. 1010; also available at PsychRights.org and ResearchGate.net

Berton Roueché, "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".

Don Weitz, "Electroshock Must Be Banned as Crime Against Humanity", thestreetspirit.org, August 2005

Recommended Videos

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Simple Truth 10: Electroshock is Brain Trauma, YouTube.com. In this video, uploaded on April 8, 2015, Dr. Peter Breggin reveals the prevalence of electroshock in 2015 and the fact that this supposed therapy is brain damage and only brain damage.

"Patient pleads: please stop my shock treatment", uploaded Feb. 13, 2007, YouTube.com: "A Dunedin [New Zealand] woman who is being given electric shock treatment in a psychiatric hospital has made a public plea for her doctors to stop".  This video is an opportunity to see how normal are people who are involuntarily electroshocked.

Web sites I recommended: ECT Resources Center, ect.org, The Coalition for the Abolition of Electroshock in Texas, MindFreedom, National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

copyright 2014
Permission to reproduce is granted
provided the reproduction is accurate
and proper credit is given

The author is a volunteer (pro bono) attorney for the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (psychrights.org) and may be reached at wayneramsay (at) mail (dot) com

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