Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is popularly known as electroshock therapy. This treatment induces a seizure by delivering an electrical current directly into a person’s body. It has historically been used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions, and its use remains extremely controversial.

History of ECT
Medical practitioners have been inducing seizures to treat a variety of illnesses for hundreds of years. Modern electroconvulsive therapy was invented in the 1940s, and the procedure has undergone several changes designed to make it safer since that time. In the mid-20th century, patients in psychiatric hospitals frequently underwent electroconvulsive therapy against their will. The backlash against this practice resulted in a significant decline in its usage.

In recent years, however ECT has made a comeback, and many people report that it is particularly effective at treating depression. The effects of ECT on the brain, however, have not been directly studied on people before and after ECT because of potential ethical problems of such a study. ECT’s effectiveness has been demonstrated in animals, but the exact reason why seizures can produce an improvement in some people is not known. Moreover, the results are not predictable and some people experience no improvement from the treatment.

When is ECT Used?
In contemporary psychiatry, patients must consent to ECT. It is only recommended in cases where other forms of treatment are ineffective. People with schizophrenia, severe depression, Tourette syndrome, and obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience improved functioning after ECT. The most common side effect of ECT is memory loss. This memory loss may be temporary or permanent, and the degree to which a person loses his or her memory cannot be predicted. People may also experience medical complications due to the effects of the electricity on the body. Heart problems are among the most significant risks.

How Does ECT Work?
Patients are given anesthesia and muscle relaxants so that they are not awake and do not feel pain during the procedure. A doctor may then place a bite guard in the patient’s mouth to prevent him or her from biting through their tongue. A doctor then attaches electrodes to the patient’s head and delivers an electrical current to induce a seizure. The seizure may last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Patients typically receive six to twelve treatments spaced closely together.


  1. Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2010, July 09). Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/electroconvulsive-therapy/MY00129

Last Updated: 08-6-2015

  • Leave a Comment
  • Christine

    March 17th, 2017 at 11:00 PM

    Husband has Frontal Temporal Degeneration, dementia. Alzheimer’s now mentioned and currently on psychotic meds for behavior issues and psychosis. ECT was mentioned to research by care manager while he was hospitalized, but it was never prescribed. This was an easy article for me to understand with its possible side effects. Thank you!!

  • Joe

    June 28th, 2018 at 1:38 PM

    Currently I am on the verge of beginning ECT for chronic depression. Unfortunately I cannot help you with the specifics because my first time will be next Tuesday. I work in the healthcare field and with every conversation with every other health care practitioner, they all say it’s more beneficial for most people than not. Best of luck I wish I could help more

  • Candy

    July 24th, 2021 at 12:05 PM

    How r u now dear?

  • Jeff

    December 28th, 2021 at 8:36 PM

    I am a 75 year old gay male and diagnosed dyslexia in 1989; learning disabilities. In my youth I was dubbed as lazy and did not try in school. I was never disruptive or rude to teachers, never sent to the deans office, I am unable to read and retain and listen and retain, unable to do simple math, I sometimes stutter. Have feelings of worthlessness and no self esteem. I heard about “shock treatment” for mental disorders and have been online reading everything I can find, testimonials, comments, pros and cons, what the Mayo Clinic has to say. I have been to a psychiatrist in the past as well as a phycologist and no medications were ever prescribed. I wish to explore electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to feel good about myself and have a feeling of self-worth for the first time in my life. I wish to hear comments from others who have suffered as I have. Please excuse misspellings.

  • Jeff

    December 29th, 2021 at 7:07 AM

    Yesterday I left a message concerning my mental health in detail. My thought that providing details that it would be helpful and seeking solutions and meeting other people who have suffered with dyxlexia and learning disabilities as I have my entire life. I was disappointed to see my comments were removed. Do I not qualify? I very much want to hear from people who have undergone ECT, something I very much want to explore.

  • Christina

    August 20th, 2022 at 8:51 PM

    Did anyone experience ect?

  • Jeff

    August 30th, 2023 at 11:35 PM

    My earlier comment of December 28, 2021 had a number of obvious spelling errors. I am sorry no one has replied with personal comments regarding ECT. I continue to believe with the aid of a board certified Psychiatrist that I am willing to undergo ECT with the belief and hope it can help with my dyslexia and learning disabilities.
    I had sincerely hoped that others with conditions like mine would have shared their experiences here. I have nothing to hide and it took courage to speak here in public with others.

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