My parents were angered and socially embarrassed by my behavior, and they consulted
the family doctor who advised electric shock treatments. He took me forcibly to his
nursing home where they were administered, without anesthetic, and where I remained
for 3-4 weeks of many treatments until I was thought “safe” enough to continue with
outpatient treatments. It was 1946; I was 11 years old; and it happened again 2 years
later. I can still recall some of what it was like:
The attendant tells me I’ve been here 3 weeks. I know I’m getting more and more
shock treatments. They come into my room early in the morning. They wake me up
and grab me and drag me to the treatment room. People push down on my arms and
legs. The doctor puts the metal things on both sides of my head. Now he tells me to lift
my head up and then puts a strap thing around my head over the metal things. It pulls
on my hair. He says to open my mouth. I think I’m going to die each time. It’s OK. I
open my mouth and he sticks the black thing in it. Suddenly, I’m out. Nothing. Nothing
till I wake up in my bed in the same dark room. Someone must carry me back to my
room each time. I hate to wake up. Most of the time I sleep but when I wake up, I
remember where I am because I hear the old ladies moaning, the same constant hum.
I’m upset. When I look in the mirror I get more upset and want to cry. I don’t even look
like me! I can’t remember what I’m doing! I never wash my hair. It’s sticky and itchy.
I’m so tired. I must be so bad. They just keep coming back and taking me to that room
for more shocks. My arms have red blotches on them like finger marks. Why? They
hold me down so hard on that black table. I guess that’s why my back hurts. If I don’t
open my mouth fast enough they grab my face and pull my mouth open. I cry and cry.
I want to die. I can’t help it anymore. I can’t think. I can’t remember anything. The
child I was is gone forever.
After the second shock series I ran away from home, and my parents disowned me.
Now I had to make it on my own or die. I never looked back. To protect myself, I became
very vigilant, very “normal” and quiet, and very adult. I was 14 years old. I got a job as a
hospital attendant and eventually became a psychiatric nurse. I figured, “If you can’t
beat ’em, join ’em.” Staying focused made it possible to hide my memory retention
problems. In the mid-70s I developed symptoms of multiple sclerosis which was finally
diagnosed in 1990. Recently I have had epileptic seizures. At least so far, they are only
partial seizures. The consulting neurologists have told me that these conditions point to
brain damage, in my case, caused by the ECT. Ironically, it is possible I survived as well
as I have because I was given ECT when very young and my brain had some capacity to
repair itself or compensate more easily.
I often wonder who I would have become and what my life would have been like had
it not been for the electric shocks.
MARGO BOUER (U.S. electroshock survivor and nurse), personal communication, 16
January 2006. Bouer has written about her life in After Shock: A Memoir (Lost
Childhood), 1997, www.xlibris.com
1946 — There were 4 deaths among 276 patients who underwent electroshock at Central
Islip Hospital, New York over a three-year period ending in 1945 [editor’s summary].
ALEXANDER GRALNICK (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “A Three-Year Survey of
Electroshock Therapy: Report on 276 Cases,” American Journal of Psychiatry, March
1946 — Evans reported an instance of pneumonia beginning 2 days after a shock
treatment and ending fatally 36 hours later, although he did not charge this
complication to the therapy. In an unreported case, symptoms of bronchopneumonia
began 10 or 12 days after, and ended fatally 2½ weeks after a shock course, similarly
this death was not ascribed to the therapy.
LOUIS LOWINGER and JAMES H. HUDDLESON (U.S. electroshock
psychiatrists), “Complications in Electric Shock Therapy,” American Journal of
Psychiatry, March 1946.
1946 — A large group of cases, most of which were those of chronic dementia praecox
[schizophrenia], were treated [with electric convulsive therapy] mainly because of
requests from the patient’s family, regardless of the duration of the illness and the type
Another group of chronic cases were [sic] selected for treatment because of the
difficulties presented in their care, and the object was to modify symptoms to a point at
which the patient would make a better hospital adjustment.
JACOB NORMAN and JOHN T. SHEA (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists), “Three
Years’ Experience with Electric Convulsive Therapy,” New England Journal of
Medicine, 27 June 1946. During this three-year period at Foxborough State Hospital in
Massachusetts, “approximately 4000 treatments” were administered to 266 patients. “If
no improvement was noted after the series of twenty treatments, no further treatment
was given except that in 12 cases of chronic schizophrenia fifty treatments were given,
regardless of the fact that the patients did not improve after the first twenty.” Some of
these patients “showed symptoms pointing to the possibility of organic brain damage.”
1946 — [Psychiatrist D. Ewen Cameron proposed] that after the war each surviving
German over the age of twelve should receive a short course of electroshock treatment to
burn out any remaining vestige of Nazism.
GORDON THOMAS (British writer), Journey into Madness: The True Story of Secret
CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse, ch. 8, 1989.
See D. Ewen Cameron’s entry in 1957 below.
1946 — [Army] regulations prescribe that no more than 12 shock treatments be
administered in any one course. In many cases 12 treatments are sufficient. In others,
more treatments are required. In such instances we ordinarily terminate treatment after
the 12th reaction and begin a new course of 12 treatments after a few days’ interval when
such action is indicated.
MARK ZEIFERT (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Convulsive Shock Therapy in an
Army General Hospital,” Diseases of the Nervous System, April 1946.
1947 — It is the opinion of all observers in the hospital, in the school rooms, of the
parents and other guardians that the children [a total of 100] were always somewhat
improved by the [electric shock] treatment inasmuch as they were less disturbed, less
excitable, less withdrawn, and less anxious. They were better controlled, seemed better
integrated and more mature and were better able to meet social situations in a realistic
fashion. They were more composed, happier, and were better able to accept teaching or
psychotherapy in groups or individually.
LAURETTA BENDER (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and co-originator of the
Bender-Gestalt Scale Test, 1897-1987), “One Hundred Cases of Childhood
Schizophrenia Treated with Electric Shock,” Transactions of the American Neurological
Association (72nd Annual Meeting), July 1947. Comment: In a 1954 follow-up study,
two psychiatrists investigated 32 children Bender had electroshocked. “In a number of
cases, parents have told the writers that their children were definitely worse after EST.
In fact, many of these children were regarded as so dangerous to themselves or others
that hospitalization become imperative. Also, after a course of such treatment one nineyear-
old boy made what was interpreted as an attempt at suicide.” Soon afterwards,
when being admitted to a state hospital, “he said that he had tried to hang himself
because [referring to ECT] he was ‘afraid of dying and wanted to get it over with fast’”
(E. R. CLARDY and ELIZABETH M. RUMPF [U.S. psychiatrists], “The Effect of
Electric Shock Treatment on Children Having Schizophrenic Manifestations,”
Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 28 [supplement], 1954). Comment: “Children have been
treated without harm as shown by the extensive experience of Bender” (LOTHAR B.
KALINOWSKY [German-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist], “Electric and Other
Convulsive Treatments,” published in Silvano Arieti, ed., American Handbook of
Psychiatry, 2nd ed., vol. 5, 1975).
See Ted Chabasinski’s entry in 1944 above; and Bender’s entries in 1950 and 1942-1969 and Chabasinski’s
entry in 1982 below.
1947 — The most persistent impression obtained is that the shock patients show a
picture resembling the post-lobotomy syndrome.
LEON SALZMAN (U.S. psychiatrist), “An Evaluation of Shock Therapy,” American
Journal of Psychiatry, March 1947.
1948 — She continued (to be) noisy, talkative, restless, into everything, throwing things
out the windows and insisting that electricity came up through the floor to bother her.
She was put on maintenance EST 7/6/48 and has had 6 treatments and none since July
20. She does not like the treatments which may account for some of her improvement in
ANONYMOUS (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “continuous notes,” Stockton State
Hospital (California), case 58214, 9 August 1948, quoted in Joel Braslow (U.S.
psychiatrist), Mental Ills and Bodily Cures: Psychiatric Treatment in the First Half of
the Twentieth Century, ch. 5, 1997. In researching his book, Braslow had access to
patients’ psychiatric records in several California state hospitals for the period from the
1920s through the 1950s.
1948 — E.S.T. seems to keep her “under control” so to speak.
ANONYMOUS (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “continuous notes,” Stockton State
Hospital (California), case 53774, 14 December 1948, quoted in Joel Braslow, Mental
Ills and Bodily Cures: Psychiatric Treatment in the First Half of the Twentieth
Century, ch. 5, 1997.
1948 — Patients get a break at Brooklyn [State Hospital], both on the humane and
medical end. Virtually every patient who is admitted gets an early chance at shock
therapy, if suitable for such treatment….
It is a distinct pleasure to report, after the heartbreaking scenes witnessed in many
other state hospitals, that Brooklyn State Hospital, while far from being a model mental
hospital, is decidedly one that can be recommended. Would that there were many more
ALBERT DEUTSCH (U.S. writer), The Shame of the States, ch. 18, 1948. In the book’s
introduction, psychiatrist KARL A. MENNINGER wrote that Deutsch “has probably
done more than anyone else to keep before the eyes of the American people the abuses
that are perpetrated in their name in public psychiatric hospitals…. He combines the
skill of the reporter and the training of the scientist with the deep feeling of a man of
compassion and vision.”
1948 — By what mechanism do the shock therapies [i.e., insulin coma treatment,
metrazol convulsive treatment and electroconvulsive treatment] obtain their
phenomenal results? By what path does a stimulus given to the soma reach the domain
of the psyche and rehabilitate it to follow patterns that we call normal or quasi
The following [are] 50 shock theories gleaned from American and foreign sources.
Some of them are independent, others overlap, but all challenge our attention.
I. SOMATOGENIC THEORIES….
2. Destructive. Because prefrontal lobotomy improves the mentally ill by destruction,
the improvement obtained by all the shock therapies must also involve some destructive
8. Circulation. They help by way of a circulatory shake up….
18. Capillary spasms. It produces spasms in the brain capillaries and diseased nerve
cells are eliminated….
20. Cerebral function. It decreases cerebral function….
24. Cortex cells. Irreversible changes in the cortex cells explain the change in the
II. PSYCHOGENIC THEORIES….
2. Dying and resurrection. There is an unconscious experience of dying and
4. Preparation for psychotherapy. It is only a preparation of the ground for
5. Catharsis. Emotional catharsis is facilitated….
6. Contact with physician. The treatments bring patient and physician in close
7. Physician becomes “mother.” Helpless and dependent, the patient sees in the
physician a mother….
12. Vital instincts. Threat of death mobilizes all the vital instincts and forces a
reestablishment of contacts with reality….
13. Atonement. The treatment is considered by patient as punishment for sins and
gives feelings of relief….
14. Fear. Fear of the procedure causes remission….
15. Victory and joy. Victory over death and joy of rebirth produce the results….
16. Ego. The healthy ego reobtains dominion over pathological ego….
17. Amnesia. The resulting amnesia is healing….
18. Eros. Erotization is the therapeutic factor….
22. Lower level. The personality is brought down to a lower level and adjustment is
obtained more easily in a primitive vegetative existence than in a highly developed
personality. Imbecility replaces insanity.
HIRSCH L. GORDON (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Fifty Shock Therapy
Theories,” Military Surgeon, November 1948.
1948 — This brings us for a moment to a discussion of the brain damage produced by
electroshock…. Is a certain amount of brain damage not necessary in this type of
treatment? Frontal lobotomy indicates that improvement takes place by a definite
damage of certain parts of the brain.
PAUL H. HOCH (Hungarian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and past
commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene), “Discussion and
Concluding Remarks,” Journal of Personality, vol. 17, 1948.
1948 — We started by inducing two to four grand mal convulsions daily until the desired
degree of regression was reached…. We considered a patient had regressed sufficiently
when he wet and soiled, or acted and talked like a child of four….
Sometimes the confusion passes rapidly and patients act as if they had awakened
from dreaming; their minds seem like clean slates upon which we can write.
CYRIL J. C. KENNEDY and DAVID ANCHEL (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists),
“Regressive Electric-Shock in Schizophrenics Refractory to Other Shock Therapies.”
Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 22, 1948.
1948 — Case 2. Mrs. J. R. represents the group of patients who have, over a period of
years, been ardent followers of a certain faith and who become depressed and confused
when thoughts of previous sex practices recur. Her conflict arose because she could not
reconcile her past conduct with her present religious beliefs. She was a woman of 65,
short and stockily built, and had raised 4 children. Her sickness followed the death of
her husband four years before and has persisted to date. She objects to any medication
or shock treatment because of her faith but does show definite temporary improvement
after shock therapy. This patient is not accessible to psychotherapy, owing to her age
and her profound religious beliefs.
N. K. RICKELS and CHARLES G. POLAN (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists), “Causes
of Failure in Treatment with Electric Shock: Analysis of Thirty-Eight Cases,” Archives of
Neurology and Psychiatry, March 1948.
1948 — The pre-treatment room, with its air of pleasant diversion, is equipped with a
radio and recording machine with a large stack of records for listening and dancing. A
librarian visits the unit daily with magazines, books, and newspapers. The Red Cross is
represented by Grey Ladies who chat and play cards with patients awaiting their turn for
[electric shock] treatment. The recreational aides and nurses also act as dancing
partners for any patients so inclined. Although the space is limited, this entertainment is
greatly enjoyed. Here the patient is induced to relax and is given an opportunity to
forget his fear and anxiety in the pleasant atmosphere of a social gathering of friendly
CLINTON C. SHERMAN and LEON O. CHARBONNEAU (U.S. nurses), “Electric
Shock Therapy,” American Journal of Nursing, May 1948. Both nurses were staff
members at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts, while writing
1949 — The number of patients treated [with electroconvulsive treatment at California’s
Stockton State Hospital] for the year ending June 30, 1949, increased over the previous
year by nearly five times, to 2,997. Underscoring its status as the “foremost method of
therapy in the state hospitals,” doctors shocked 60 percent of the patients at Stockton
JOEL BRASLOW (U.S. psychiatrist), Mental Ills and Bodily Cures: Psychiatric
Treatment in the First Half of the Twentieth Century, ch. 5, 1997.
1949 — [While filming Annie Get Your Gun in 1949, Judy Garland] began to arrive at
the studio late or not at all, often staying home, unable to rise from her bed. Her weight
dropped to 90 pounds, and her hair began to fall out, a side effect, most likely, of her
profligate use of amphetamines. In an effort to lift her out of her depression, a new
doctor, Fred Pobirs, persuaded her to undergo a series of six electroshock treatments.
GERALD CLARKE (U.S. writer), Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, 2000. JUDY
GARLAND returned to the set after finishing the electroshock series, but, as she
recalled later, “I couldn’t learn anything. I couldn’t retain anything; I was just up there
making strange noises. Here I was in the middle of a million-dollar property, with a
million-dollar wardrobe, with a million eyes on me, and I was in a complete daze. I knew
it, and everyone around me knew it.” The studio soon suspended her from the film.
See William Arnold’s entry on Frances Farmer in 1944 above; and Lawrence Olivier’s on Vivien Leigh in
1953 and Gene Tierney’s in 1955 below.
1949 — Quite a number of psychiatrists object to shock treatment, or frontal lobotomy,
because they say it is only a symptomatic treatment, like giving the patient a sleeping
pill when he suffers from insomnia…. In most of our treatments what we actually are
achieving is an emotional amputation, in a sense that we prevent a conflict from
remaining dominant in the patient’s mind.
PAUL H. HOCH (Hungarian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Theoretical
Aspects of Frontal Lobotomy and Similar Brain Operations,” American Journal of
Psychiatry, December 1949.
1949 — There were 5 deaths among 511 patients who underwent electroshock at Pontiac
State Hospital, Michigan [editor’s summary].
PETER A. MARTIN (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Convulsive Therapies: Review
of 511 Cases at Pontiac State Hospital,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,
1949 — Two soft pads, which felt slightly moist, clamped themselves against Winston’s
temples. He quailed. There was pain coming, a new kind of pain. O’Brien laid a hand
reassuringly, almost kindly, on his.
“This time it will not hurt,” he said. “Keep your eyes fixed on mine.”
At this moment there was a devastating explosion, or what seemed like an explosion,
though it was not certain whether there was any noise. There was undoubtedly a
blinding flash of light. Winston was not hurt, only prostrated…. A terrific painless, blow
had flattened him out. Also something had happened inside his head. As his eyes
regained their focus, he remembered who he was, and where he was, and recognized the
face that was gazing into his own; but somewhere or other there was a large patch of
emptiness, as though a piece had been taken out of his brain.
GEORGE ORWELL (English writer), Nineteen Eighty-Four (a novel), ch. 3, sect. 2,
1949 — It should be understood that long-continued treatment with electroshock does
no physical harm. Cases have been reported in which two hundred fifty and even one
thousand convulsions have been induced over a period of years, with no organic damage
to the patient.
PHILLIP POLATIN (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist) and ELLEN C. PHILTINE,
How Psychiatry Helps, ch. 6, 1949.
1949 — There were 2 deaths among 18 patients who underwent intensive electroshock at
Mapperley Hospital, Nottingham, England in 1949 [editor’s summary].
PAUL L. WEIL (British electroshock psychiatrist), “‘Regressive’ Electroplexy in
Schizophrenics,” Journal of Mental Science, April 1950.
Late 1940s–early 1950s — Every morning I woke in dread, waiting for the day nurse to
go on her rounds and announce from the list of names in her hand whether or not I was
for shock treatment, the new and fashionable means of quieting people and of making
them realize that orders are to be obeyed and floors are to be polished without anyone
protesting and faces are made to be fixed into smiles and weeping is a crime.
JANET FRAME (New Zealand electroshock survivor and writer), Faces in the Water,
ch. 1, sect. 1, 1961. Frame was electroshocked more than 200 times over an eight-year
period during her twenties. An acclaimed writer, Frame’s autobiography was made into
a 1990 film titled An Angel at My Table.
Late 1940s-early 1950s — Suddenly the inevitable cry or scream sounds from behind the
closed doors which after a few minutes swing open and Molly or Goldie or Mrs. Gregg,
convulsed and snorting, is wheeled out. I close my eyes tight as the bed passes me, yet I
cannot escape seeing it, or the other beds where people are lying, perhaps heavily asleep,
or whimperingly awake, their faces flushed, their eyes bloodshot. I can hear someone
moaning and weeping; it is someone who has woken up in the wrong time and place, for
I know that the treatment snatches these things from you, leaves you alone and blind in
a nothingness of being, and you try to fumble your way like a newborn animal to the
flowing of first comforts; then you wake, small and frightened, and tears keep falling in a
grief that you cannot name.
JANET FRAME, Faces in the Water, ch. 1, sect. 1, 1961.
Late 1940s–early 1950s — I tried to forget my still-growing disquiet and dread and the
haunting smell of the other ward, as I became to all appearances one of the gentle
contented patients of Ward Seven, that the E.S.T. which happened three times a week,
and the succession of screams heard as the machine advanced along the corridor, were a
nightmare that one suffered for one’s own “good.” “For your own good” is a persuasive
argument that will eventually make man agree to his own destruction.
JANET FRAME, Faces in the Water, ch. 2, sect. 1, 1961.
1950 — In April 1950, a “mute and autistic” 34½-month-old boy was administered 20
electric convulsions after being referred to the children’s ward of New York’s Bellevue
Hospital. A month later he was discharged. The discharge note indicated “moderate
improvement, since he was eating and sleeping better, was more friendly with the other
children, and he was toilet trained” [editor’s summary].
LAURETTA BENDER (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “The Development of a
Schizophrenic Child Treated with Electric Convulsions at Three Years of Age,” published
in Gerald Caplan, ed., Emotional Problems of Early Childhood, 1955.
See Bender’s entry in 1947 above.
1950 — Some patients come to operation [lobotomy] at the end of a long and
exasperating series of medical treatments, hospital treatments, shock treatments,
including endocrines and vitamins mixed with their physiotherapy and psychotherapy.
They are still desperate, and will go to any length to get rid of their distress. Other
patients can’t be dragged into the hospital and have to be held down on a bed in a hotel
room until sufficient shock treatment can be given to render them manageable.
WALTER FREEMAN and JAMES W. WATTS (U.S. psychosurgeons),
Psychosurgery in the Treatment of Mental Disorders and Intractable Pain, 2nd ed., ch.
8, 1950. Pictured on the page facing the above excerpt is a naked, distraught woman in a
standing position with a restraining belt around her waist struggling with 2 nurses; the
complete caption reads, “Figure 44. Case 441. ‘Other patients have to be held…’” [ellipsis
Walter Freeman performing a lobotomy
1950 — In 1950, [Yale psychologist Irving L.] Janis collected personal memories, from
childhood to the present, from 30 people, 19 of whom later received ECT. Four weeks
after ECT, all 19 suffered “profound, extensive recall failures” that “occurred so
infrequently among the 11 patients in the control group as to be almost negligible.” Most
of the gaps were for the period of 6 months before ECT, but in some cases the memory
loss was for events more than 10 years previously. Surprisingly, retrograde amnesia was
scarcely researched again until the 1970s [when] protests compelled ECT proponents to
try and prove ECT is safe.
JOHN READ (New Zealand psychologist), “Electroconvulsive Therapy,” published in
Read, Loren R. Mosher and Richard P. Bentall, eds., Models of Madness: Psychological,
Social and Biological Approaches to Schizophrenia, 2004.
1950 — Within 2 weeks from the beginning of our intensive electric shock treatment the
character of the ward [of 114 “psychotic women patients” at Stockton State Hospital in
California] changed radically from that of a chronic disturbed ward to that of a quiet
chronic ward. Combative behavior of the patients diminished dramatically. Physical
labor of the attendants was cut in half. For example, individual tray service for 40 to 50
patients per meal was abolished. Soiling and smearing were also markedly reduced.
Patients in general became better “ward citizens,” and in the words of one attendant
“began to act like human beings.” There was a general heightening of the morale of both
attendants and patients.
MERVYN SHOOR and FREEMAN H. ADAMS (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists),
“The Intensive Electric Shock Therapy of Chronic Disturbed Psychotic Patients,”
American Journal of Psychiatry, October 1950.
1951 — [On small hospital ships returning to the U.S. from the Pacific war zone during
World War II] it was discovered that the usual electric shock therapy application,
administered in the morning and afternoon of two successive days, worked nothing less
than miracles in converting wildly disturbed patients into quiet, tractable, cooperative,
and often improved individuals….
It was decided to try this intensive therapy at Willard [State Hospital in Willard, New
York] — a modality which the employees concerned came to dub the “Blitz,” ultimately
leading to the term “B.E.S.T.” (Blitz Electric Shock Therapy). The authors think time
and results have justified this descriptive classification.
The first question was the matter of selection. In most research investigations two
groups are chosen, one for control and one for experimentation. In the Willard case, one
group could well stand for both, pre-treatment histories and recorded activities serving
for control comparison. It was further decided to apply the traditional physiological
concept of “all-or-none,” and 50 of the most disturbed female patients were selected.
JAMES A. BRUSSEL and JACOB SCHNEIDER (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists),
“The B.E.S.T. in the Treatment and Control of Chronically Disturbed Mental Patients —
A Preliminary Report,” Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 1 (supplement), 1951. Early in World
War II, the German Army developed and employed blitzkreig tactics, literally “lightning
1951 — As in Victorian and ancient times, women in mid-twentieth-century America
were liable to be seen as mentally disordered in the context of their reproductive
functions (menstruation, childbirth, menopause), as well as their gender role “duties” as
wives and mothers. Describing a married female patient who exhibited “marked
improvement” after EST, Steinfeld and his colleagues commented that “the patient, for
the first time since her marriage accepted her husband completely and did not reject his
desire for impregnating her.”
TIMOTHY W. KNEELAND (U.S. political scientist) and CAROL A. B. WARREN
(U.S. sociologist), Pushbutton Psychiatry: A History of Electroshock in America, ch. 3,
2002. The quoted material in the excerpt is from J. I. Steinfeld, Therapeutic Studies on
1951 — By the end of this intensive course of [electroconvulsive] treatment [“4 grand
mal seizures daily, spaced so that 2 were given in the morning at one to two hour
intervals and 2 in the afternoon, for 7 consecutive days”] practically all [52
schizophrenic] patients showed profound disturbances. They were dazed, out of contact
and for the most part helpless. All showed incontinence of urine, and incontinence of
feces was not uncommon. Most of them were underactive and did not talk
spontaneously. Many failed to respond to questions but a few patients would obey
simple requests. They appeared prostrated and apathetic. At the same time most of
them whined, whimpered and cried readily, and some were resistive and petulant, in a
childish way. They could usually be made to walk if led and supported, but their
movements were slow, uncertain and clumsy. Most of them like to be coddled.
Masturbation was not uncommon. They seemed to have lost all desire to eat or drink
and showed no discrimination as to what they were eating. They had to be spoonfed,
and most of them lost from 3 to 12 pounds in weight during the course of treatment.
They could not dress themselves and none of those tested during the period could
complete the task of extracting a match from a matchbox and light the match.
DAVID ROTHSCHILD, DONALD J. VAN GORDAN, and ANTHONY
VARJABEDIAN (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists), “Regressive Shock Therapy in
Schizophrenia,” Diseases of the Nervous System, May 1951.
1951 — The CIA in 1951 apparently conducted human experiments using electroshock
techniques despite warnings from an expert that they were “extremely painful and could
reduce subjects to the vegetable level.”
The CIA carried out human-behavior and mind-control projects, including the use of
unwitting subjects, from 1951 until they were ordered discontinued in 1973….
The documents included a Dec. 3, 1951, memo on the conversation a CIA officer had
with a psychologist [sic] on the use of electroshock in interrogations and for other
Names were blacked out in copies of released material.
[The article concluded with a summary of the memo’s content.]
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, “CIA Once Tried Electroshock, Though It
Created ‘Vegetables,’” San Francisco Examiner, 8 January 1979. The following excerpts
are from a copy of an anonymous CIA agent’s memo cited in the article:
“‘Artichoke’ — [blacked out]….
2. “[Blacked out] is reported to be an authority on electric shock. He is a professor at
the [blacked out] and, in addition, is a psychiatrist of considerable note. [Blacked out] is,
in addition, a fully cleared Agency consultant.
3. “[Blacked out] explained that he felt that electric shock might be of considerable
interest to the ‘artichoke’ type of work. He stated that the standard electric-shock
machine (Reiter) could be used in two ways. One setting of this machine produced the
normal electric-shock treatment (including convulsion) with amnesia after a number of
treatments. He stated that using this machine as an electro-shock device with the
convulsive treatment, he felt that he could guarantee amnesia for certain periods of time
and particularly he could guarantee amnesia for any knowledge of use of the convulsive
4. “[Blacked out] stated that the other or lower setting of the machine produced a
different type of shock. He said he could not explain it, but knew that when this lower
current type of shock was applied without convulsion, it had the effect of making a man
talk. He said, however, that the use of this type of shock was prohibited because it
produced in the individual excruciating pain and he stated that there would be no
question in his mind that the individual would be quite willing to give information if
threatened with the use of this machine. He stated that this was a third-degree method
but, undoubtedly, would be effective. [Blacked out] stated that he had never had the
device applied to himself, but had talked with people who had been shocked in this
manner and stated that they complained that their whole head was on fire and it was
much too painful a treatment for any medical practice. He stated that the only way it
was ever used was in connection with sedatives and even then its use was extremely
painful. The writer asked [blacked out] whether or not in the ‘groggy’ condition
following the convulsion by the electric-shock machine anyone had attempted to obtain
hypnotic control over the patient, since it occurred to the writer that it would be a good
time to attempt to obtain hypnotic control. [Blacked out] stated that, to his knowledge,
it had never been done, but he could make this attempt in the near future at the [blacked
out] and he would see whether or not this could be done.