5. “[Blacked out] and [blacked out], as well as all others present, discussed the use of
electro shock at considerable length and it was [blacked out] opinion that an individual
could gradually be reduced through the use of electro-shock treatment to the vegetable
level. He stated that, whereas amnesia could be guaranteed relative [to] the actual use of
the shock and the time element surrounding it, he said it would obtain imperfect
amnesia for periods further back. He stated several instances in which people who had
been given the electro-shock treatment remembered some details of certain things and
complete blanks in other ways.
6. “…. [Blacked out] said that the standard electro-shock machine is a very common
machine in medical offices and in the major cities there must be several hundred of
them in use at all times….”
See D. Ewen Cameron’s entry in 1957 below.
1952 — Daniel Bovet (Swiss-born Italian pharmacologist) introduced succinylcholine
(Anectine) as a muscle relaxant to prevent fractures and other bone injuries during the
administration of electroshock. The new drug was a synthetic version of curare which
had been used for the same purpose on a small minority of ECT patients since 1940.
Deaths believed to have been caused by curare discouraged its broader use.
1952 — In my short experience with this patient, she has been a chronic disturbed,
unmanageable patient on Unit 5 of Cottage E. I have attempted to give her daily shock in
order to quiet her down and make her more manageable and less of a ward problem.
After about 8 shock treatments in 10 days, patient continues the same as before. She
obviously is in need of lobotomy.
ANONYMOUS (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “continuous notes,” Stockton State
Hospital (California), case 59533, 27 February 1952, quoted in Joel Braslow (U.S.
psychiatrist), Mental Ills and Bodily Cures: Psychiatric Treatment in the First Half of
the Twentieth Century, ch. 6, 1997.
1952 — An ancillary, nevertheless very helpful, role can be played by ECT in the
treatment of narcotic addiction. It is highly to be recommended as a tool for the
management of the withdrawal period. The so-called “annihilating” form of treatment
should be used and we have found two to three treatments administered daily for a
period of up to seven days to be of greatest help in overcoming the host of withdrawal
ALFRED GALLINEK (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Controversial Indications for
Electric Shock Therapy,” Confinia Neurologica, vol. 12, 1952.
See Ugo Cerletti’s entry in 1942 above.
1952 — Price and Knouss describe three different types of music which should be played
during the three stages of preparing the patient for the treatment [ECT], for his return
to consciousness and for the rest period after the treatment. We are not opposed to such
efforts, but the most important requirement is to avoid observation of the treatment by
patients who are not only frightened themselves but through their reports contribute to
the opposition against the treatment by others.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY (German-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist) and
PAUL H. HOCH (Hungarian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), Shock Treatments,
Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., ch. 3, sect. B.9,
1952 — After several [electroconvulsive] treatments, when the patient is much better, he
develops an increasing fear for which he is unable to account. This late and quite intense
fear is not explained by any discomfort from the treatment, nor by the psychotic fears
which have usually disappeared, at least temporarily, by this time…. “The agonizing
experience of the shattered self” (Schildge) is the most convincing explanation for the
late fear of the treatment.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY and PAUL H. HOCH, Shock Treatments,
Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., ch. 3, sect. B.11,
1952 — An unpleasant experience in ECT is the postconvulsive excitement immediately
following the convulsion, which may last from a few minutes to one-half hour. Some
patients, particularly males, become dangerously assaultive, develop enormous
strength, try to escape, run around, and injure themselves, and may strike anyone who
attempts to control them.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY and PAUL H. HOCH, Shock Treatments,
Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., ch. 3, sect. B.11,
See Abrams and Swartz’s 2nd entry in 1996 below.
1952 — All patients who remain unimproved after ECT are inclined to complain bitterly
of their memory difficulties.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY and PAUL H. HOCH, Shock Treatments,
Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., ch. 3, sect. B.13,
1952 (1946). Compare: “Losses in intelligence, memory, and other measurable abilities
[after lobotomy] are due to the psychosis, not to lobotomy” (WALTER FREEMAN
[U.S. neurologist and psychosurgeon], “West Virginia Lobotomy Project: A Sequel.”
Journal of the American Medical Association, 29 September 1962).
1952 — Physicians who treat their patients to the point of complete disorientation are
highly satisfied with the value of ECT in schizophrenia. Such “confusional treatment”
always uses intense therapy.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY and PAUL H. HOCH, Shock Treatments,
Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., ch. 3, sect. B.19,
1952 — At present, we can say only that we are treating empirically disorders whose
etiology is unknown, with methods such as shock treatments whose action is also
shrouded in mystery.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY and PAUL H. HOCH, closing sentence, Shock
Treatments, Psychosurgery and Other Somatic Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd ed.,
1952 (1946). Kalinowsky attributed this observation, well-known among electroshock
psychiatrists, to Hoch (interview, Psychiatric News, 5 May 1978).
1952 — What counts alone with most shock therapists is the “adjustment” their fearful
apparatus and its brain-searing explosion produces. In effect, there is little difference
between the white-coated psychiatric shock specialist and his primitive forebear, the
mud-daubed witch doctor, who also treated diseases of the mind by scaring out, shaking
out, routing out, and exorcising by dire agony and inhuman ordeal the demons or devils
— today disguised by scientific-sounding names — which they believed cause patients to
behave in such deplorable, tactless, or irritating ways. In the name of this adjustment,
and in order to bring about the desired quiet and submissiveness, the patient is put
through a crucifixion of such torment as one would wish to spare the lowliest animal.
ROBERT LINDNER (U.S. psychoanalyst), Prescription for Rebellion, ch. 2, 1952.
1952 — Something has… happened to the patient: he has been pulverized into
submission, thrashed and smashed into adjustment, granulized into cowed domesticity.
If he can now meet the criteria of the “shockiatrist” who has attended him — if he can be
polite, keep himself tidy, respond with heartiness to his physician’s cheery morning
greeting, refrain from annoying people with his complaining and, above all, make no
noise, everything will be well. If not — Quick, nurse, the little black box!
ROBERT LINDNER, Prescription for Rebellion, ch. 2, 1952.
1953 — I hope in due course to publish studies showing that the schizophrenic patient
may be as dependent on ECT for a normal existence as a diabetic is on insulin.
HAROLD BOURNE (British electroshock psychiatrist), “The Insulin Myth,” Lancet, 7
1953 — [The series of electroshock left her with] slight but noticeable personality
changes…. She was not the same girl that I had fallen in love with [ellipsis in original].
LAWRENCE OLIVIER (British actor), referring to his former wife actor Vivien Leigh
who had undergone ECT in 1953, quoted in “Health: Electric Shock Treatment,” Sunday
Times (London), 9 December 2001.
See William Arnold’s entry on Frances Farmer in 1944 and Gerald Clarke’s on Judy Garland in 1949
above; and Gene Tierney’s entry in 1955 and Robert J. Grimm’s in 1976 below.
1953 — Doctor Gordon [a pseudonym] was unlocking the closet. He dragged out a table
on wheels with a machine on it and rolled it behind the head of the bed. The nurse
started swabbing my temples with a smelly grease….
“Don’t worry,” the nurse grinned down at me. “Their first time everybody’s scared to
I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment.
Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled
them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite.
I shut my eyes.
There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.
Then something bent down, and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the
world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with
each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly
out of me like a split plant.
I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.
SYLVIA PLATH (U.S. electroshock survivor, writer, and poet), describing her
experience with ECT in 1953, The Bell Jar, ch. 12, 1971.
See Plath’s entries in 1960 and 1963 below.
1953 — D. H. White, female, age 31, was admitted to the hospital April 27, 1953…. [After
undergoing a series of 11 electroshocks, she was discharged “in good social remission.”]
As she still had a few psychotic residuals, it was arranged for her to return for outpatient
treatments. She returned four days after the last hospital treatment and the
decision was made to change the technique to the Reiter [ECT machine] and use
Atropine, Anectine, and Sodium Pentothal. Patient was given treatment at 9:40 A.M.
She apparently never took another breath nor was anyone sure that another heartbeat
was felt or heard. She was pronounced dead at 10:40.
G. WILSE ROBINSON JR., and JOHN D. DeMOTT (U.S. electroshock
psychiatrists), “How Important Is Liver Damage in the Use of Anectine Controlled
Electroshock?” Confinia Neurologica, vol. 4, 1954.
1953 — During the past eleven years, in our work with electroshock therapy (EST) at
Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital [New York City] and elsewhere, we have on numerous
occasions observed that acutely disturbed patients become quiet and cooperative after a
few shock treatments. In view of these observations, we decided to administer EST as a
“sedative” to selected patients on the disturbed wards of Bellevue Hospital. The patients
chosen for treatment were those who were grossly uncooperative, assaultive or refused
food…. The treatment schedule followed was to administer one treatment in the
morning and one in the afternoon until the patient became cooperative, and then to
control him with one or two treatments daily if he relapsed.
LEWIS I. SHARP, ANTHONY R. GABRIEL (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists), and
DAVID J. IMPASTATO (Italian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Management
of the Acutely Disturbed Patient by Sedative Electroshock Therapy,” Diseases of the
Nervous System, January 1953.
1954 — Shock therapy never builds. It only destroys, and its work of destruction is
beyond control. It is not new. The only new thing about it is the method of delivering the
shock. A hundred and fifty years ago a well-recognized shock-treatment method was to
flog or frighten the patient, and in some instances the results were excellent. Now we
“do it electrically,” and we get about the same percentage of good results, but with some
breaking of bones, and memory losses which frightening and flogging never produced.
Memory losses in modern shock therapy may be passed off as infrequent, limited,
and temporary, but they are really frequent, they cannot be limited, and they are usually
permanent. I have heard doctors laugh about them as they laugh about other things in
mental patients, but the losses are serious to the patients themselves. And along with
such losses go changes in general intelligence and personality, but when these changes
are too obvious to be overlooked they are ascribed to the mental illness with no mention
at all of the treatment.
JOHN MAURICE GRIMES (U.S psychiatrist), When Minds Go Wrong, 2nd ed., ch.
20, 1954 (1951).
1954 — Not knowing the case of Mrs. N., I am quite unable to give you any advice how to
treat her. At all events, at that age a psychosis is always a serious thing which transcends
all human efforts. It all depends whether one can establish a mental and moral rapport
with the patients. The shock treatment, as a rule, dulls their mental perception, so that
there is usually little hope of gaining an influence on them.
CARL G. JUNG (Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, a form of
psychotherapy), opening sentences, letter to Mr. N, 2 October 1954 (original in English),
reprinted in Gerhard Adler, ed., Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909-1961, p. 128, 1984.
1954? — Although [the electric shock treatments] benefited schizophrenics infinitely
more than psychotherapy or other environmental treatment, they had their
disadvantages. In our unit at St. Thomas’s [a general hospital in London], for instance,
patients might become so excited and upset in the early stages of treatment that we
could not continue it under general hospital conditions, and had to send one out of
every three on to mental hospitals. Largactil [the British trade name for the neuroleptic
drug marketed as Thorazine in the United States], this French discovery, now allowed us
to keep even the worst cases under sedation while electric shock and other treatments
were being given.
WILLIAM SARGANT (British electroshock psychiatrist), The Unquiet Mind: The
Autobiography of a Physician in Psychological Medicine, ch. 21, 1967. Sargant was for
many years Britain’s leading proponent of psychiatry’s physical treatments —
psychosurgery, shock, and drugs. In an essay published in The Times of London, he
wrote, “Conscience can now be eliminated surgically without any impairment of day-today
working efficiency” (“The Movement in Psychiatry Away from the Philosophical:
New Chemical and Physical Methods of Freeing Tormented Minds,” 22 August 1974).
1946-1954 — When brain cells are killed, they’re dead forever, unlike skin cells that
regenerate or nail and hair cells that continue growing posthumously.
At the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (1946-1950), one of my pathology
professors told our class that ECT kills brain cells. Yet, early in my psychiatric residency
at Kingsbridge Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx (1951-1954), I discovered
that every resident was required to spend three months on its locked shock wards and
that this meant I would have to participate directly in shocking some of the patients.
With all my heart and whatever ingenuity I could muster, I pleaded to get out of this
mandatory service. I knew deep in my innards that I’d never push the button that would
run electricity through someone’s brain causing who knows how much brain-cell death.
One morning in desperation, I hit upon the idea of an alternative to the shock wards: I
would set up and conduct a research project! Later that day, I presented my idea to the
chief of the neuropsychiatric service and — he agreed! I would not have to shock a single
The research involved interviewing insulin shock patients at the hospital, which had
an insulin ward in addition to its ECT ward. My interviews resulted in an article titled
“The Death Experience in Insulin Coma Treatment” that was published in the American
Journal of Psychiatry (June 1956).
Another assignment I created for myself to avoid the electrocutions was conducting
group therapy sessions for ECT patients. My most vivid memory from that experience
was how furious these patients were at their doctors, other staff members, their families,
or anyone they thought was responsible for their being shocked. It was only in these
sessions that they could safely vent their rage. How they raged and raged! The title of a
chapter from my book Beyond the Couch (1972) sums up the attitude I developed during
my psychiatric training: “Medical Sadism: Shock and Electricity, Ice Pick and
If not in our era, in the future, people everywhere will look with as much horror on
our lobotomies, our insulin comas and electric shocks, and our other methods of
damaging the brain as we now look upon the cruelties — chains, purgatives, spinning
chairs, wet packs, and the like – visited upon asylum inmates in an earlier age.
EILEEN WALKENSTEIN (U.S. psychiatrist), personal communication, 20 December
1955 — [The psychiatrist] is now ridiculed because of his propensity to treat certain of
his patients with a gadget — an electroshock machine! He is now referred to as an
“electrician” and a “push button practitioner” and other opprobrious and less printable
GILBERT ADAMSON (Canadian electroshock psychiatrist), “Electroshock,”
Manitoba Medical Review, 1955, quoted in Timothy W. Kneeland and Carol A. B.
Warren, Pushbutton Psychiatry: A History of Electroshock in America, ch. 3
1955 — There were 4 deaths among 112 patients who underwent electroshock at Boston
State Hospital. “J. W., aged 72, is the only patient who died as an immediate result of
EST. Eight minutes after his 51st treatment he suddenly stopped breathing” [editor’s
RUTH EHRENBERG and MILES J. O. GULLILNGSRUD (U.S. electroshock
psychiatrists), “Electroconvulsive Therapy in Elderly Patients,” American Journal of
Psychiatry, April 1955.
1955 — Over the next eight months I underwent nineteen more electric shock
treatments, a grand total, I think, of thirty-two. Pieces of my life just disappeared. A
mental patient once said it must have been [like] what Eve felt, having been created full
grown out of somebody’s rib, born without a history. That is exactly how I felt.
GENE TIERNEY (U.S. electroshock survivor and actor), Self-Portrait: Gene Tierney,
ch. 17, 1979. Tierney underwent ECT at the Institute for Living (also known as the
Hartford Retreat) in Hartford, Connecticut in 1955.
See William Arnold’s entry on Frances Farmer in 1944, Gerald Clarke’s on Judy Garland in 1949, and
Lawrence Olivier’s on Vivien Leigh in 1953 above.
1955 — [Electroconvulsive therapy] produces immediate unconsciousness, followed by
an epileptic seizure and a variable period of coma thereafter. It has all the characteristics
of an overwhelming assault, although I recognize that because of the conscious
therapeutic intent of the physician, it sounds like profanation to describe it in these
terms. It is none the less [sic] so! — and this can be documented by the reactions of
some patients who have had this treatment….
The omnipotent attitude at its most blatant takes the form of a need to have the power
of life and death over one’s subjects. With electroconvulsive treatment all the
appearances of producing a death-dealing blow, followed by “rebirth,” is [sic] there.
The need to cure quickly, magically, ritualistically can be seen often in an intense
“therapeutic ambitiousness.” Slow methods, devoid of special effects and allure, may be
hard to tolerate. This zeal can cause an inability to tolerate plateaus or regressions in the
patient’s condition with a consequent generation of anxiety and anger in the physician.
He may react unconsciously with retaliatory punishment of the wayward or
disappointing child. Electroconvulsive treatment could then become the convenient
instrument to vent one’s wrath.
GEORGE J. WAYNE (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Some Unconscious
Determinants in Physicians Motivating the Use of Particular Treatment Methods —
With Special Reference to Electroconvulsive Treatment,” Psychoanalytic Review (“The
oldest continuously published psychoanalytic journal in the world”), January 1955.
1956 — One of us (J. A. E.) has collected these statements over a period of eight years in
Britain and the United States. Most of them have been heard on many occasions.
Colleagues who have seen the list of comments have confirmed our findings that many
affect-laden colloquialisms are regularly used by shock therapists in referring to their
1. “Let’s give him the works.”
2. “Hit him with all we’ve got.”
3. “Why don’t you throw the book at him?”
4. “Knock him out with EST.”
5. “Let’s see if a few shocks will knock him out of it.”
6. “Why don’t you put him on the assembly line?”
7. “If he would not get better with one course, give him a double-sized course now.”
8. “The patient was noisy and resistive so I put him on intensive EST three times a
9. One shock therapist told the husband of a woman who was about to be shocked
that it would prove beneficial to her by virtue of its effect as “a mental spanking.”
10. “I’m going to gas him.”
11. “Why don’t you give him the gas?”
12. “I spend my entire mornings looking after the insulin therapy patients.”
13. “I take my insulin therapy patients to the doors of death, and when they are
knocking on the doors, I snatch them back.”
14. “She’s too nice a patient for us to give her EST.”
DAVID WILFRED ABSE and JOHN A. EWING (British-born U.S. psychiatrists),
“Transference and Countertransference in Somatic Therapies,” Journal of Nervous and
Mental Disease, January 1956.
1956 — The [ECT] case fatality rate is apt to increase as a higher proportion of poor-risk
patients are treated. Failure to accept and make known this risk in treatment has
unfortunately given rise to the impression that the treatment is practically devoid of
such hazard; this in turn has led willy-nilly to the erroneous assumption that death
associated with the treatment must in some manner be the fault of the psychiatrist
giving the treatment or the institution involved or both. It is our plea that deaths in
electroconvulsive and related forms of treatment be reported. It is only in this way that
the actual case fatality rate can be established. This is, among other things, an important
factor in the assessment of the relative merits of the several modifications of
electroconvulsive therapy. In contrast to the American practice in which deaths
associated with electrotherapy are reported only sporadically, if at all, the rule in
England and Wales is that all unusual or unexpected deaths, including those in
electrotherapy and other somatic treatments (such as leukotomy, insulin, and
continuous narcosis) that occur in psychiatric hospitals, come within the purview of the
board of control of the Ministry of Health. This procedure, according to the Hon. S. W.
Maclay, medical commissioner of the board of control, gives “an overall picture difficult
to achieve in any other way.”
SAUNDERS P. ALEXANDER (Polish-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist) and
LAWRENCE H. GAHAGAN (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Deaths Following
Electrotherapy,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 16 June 1956.
1956 — Attention must be called to the habit formed by certain psychiatrists [during the
Algerian War] of flying to the aid of the police. There are, for instance, psychiatrists in
Algiers, known to numerous prisoners, who have given electric shock treatments to the
accused and have questioned them during the waking phase, which is characterized by a
certain confusion, a relaxation of resistance, a disappearance of the person’s defenses.
When by chance these are liberated because the doctor, despite this barbarous
treatment, was able to obtain no information, what is brought to us is a personality in
FRANTZ FANON (French West Indian psychiatrist), A Dying Colonialism, ch. 4,
1959, tr. Haskin Chevalier, 1965. Fanon, an anti-colonialist, headed the psychiatric
department of a hospital near Algiers for several years during the Algerian War before
resigning his post and fleeing the country in 1956.
1956 — Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland
where you’re madder than I am….
I’m with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
is innocent and immortal it should never die
ungodly in an armed madhouse
I’m with you in Rockland
where fifty more shocks will never return your
soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a
cross in the void.
ALLEN GINSBERG (U.S. poet), “Howl (for Carl Solomon),” 1956. Ginsberg first met
Solomon in the waiting room of Rockland State Hospital, Orangeburg, New York, where
Ginsberg was visiting his mother. Earlier, Solomon had undergone electroshock.
1956 — Sir: Being in contact with many psychiatrists who give electric convulsive
therapy, I am greatly alarmed by personal communications on fatalities which remain
unpublished because of understandable fear of lawsuits….
Much more serious [than the risk of death from the use of muscle relaxants in
combination with intravenous barbiturates] is the sharp rise of fatalities in patients who
are under chlorpromazine [Thorazine] and reserpine [Serpasil] medication while given
ECT. I received detailed reports on several such fatalities. One case each of death from
ECT during chrlorpromazine and reserpine medication. A man, age 55, suffering from a
depression, had a blood pressure of 145/90 and a normal EKG. He took a first tablet of
50 mg. of Thorazine the evening before the first ECT and a second tablet of 50 mg. of
Thorazine the morning of the treatment. After the convulsion he resumed normal
respiration but expired a minute later. No autopsy.
LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY (German-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), letter to
American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1956.
1956 — In the amnesia caused by all electric shocks, the level of the whole intellect is
The stronger the amnesia, the more severe the underlying brain cell damage must be.
To complete the clinical picture, it should be mentioned that the “slap-happiness” or
“punch-drunkenness” combined with [emotional] flatness, witnessed after too many
“therapeutic” electroshocks remind one of the clinical pictures in cases of frontal lobe
tumors, in the small group of paretics, or again in lobotomics [lobotomized persons]….
The aggravation set up by [ECT-caused “side effects, such as amnesia, temporary
befuddlement or euphoria”] may result in a secondary reactive depression, which in
some cases has led to suicide.
MANFRED SAKEL (Austrian-born U.S. psychiatrist who, in Vienna in 1933,
introduced insulin coma treatment as a treatment for schizophrenia, 1900-1957),
commenting on ECT (a competing shock method), “Sakel Shock Treatment,” published
in Arthur M. Sackler et al., eds., The Great Physiological Therapies in Psychiatry: An
Historical Perspective, 1956.
See Sidney Sament’s entry in 1983 and Peter Sterling’s in 2001 below.
1948-1956 — [After experiencing ECT, patients] “tremble,” “sweat profusely,” and make
“impassioned verbal pleas for help,” reported Harvard University’s Thelma Alper
. Electroshock, patients told their doctors, was “like having a bomb fall on you,”
“being in a fire and getting all burned up,” and “getting a crack in the puss” .
Researchers reported that the mentally ill regularly viewed the treatment as a
“punishment” and the doctors who administered it as “cruel and heartless” .
ROBERT WHITAKER (U.S. writer), Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine,
and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, ch. 4, 2002.
1957 — We reported to the 2nd World Congress of Psychiatry in 1957 on the use of
depatterning in the treatment of paranoid schizophrenic patients. By “depatterning” is
meant the extensive breakup of the existing patterns of behavior, both normal and
pathologic, by means of intensive electroshock therapy usually carried out in association
with prolonged sleep. We have recently extended this method of treatment to other
types of schizophrenia, to intractable alcoholic addiction and to some cases of chronic
psychoneurosis impervious to psychotherapy….
[During the third stage of depatterning the patient’s] remarks are entirely
uninfluenced by previous recollections — nor are they governed in any way by his
forward anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic symptoms
have disappeared. There is complete amnesia for all events of his life.
D. EWEN CAMERON (Scottish-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and past
president of the American Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association,
the World Psychiatric Association, the Quebec Psychiatric Association, the American
Psychopathological Association, and the Society of Biological Psychiatry), describing
“depatterning treatment” which he developed during the 1950s at the Allan Memorial
Institute (now closed) of McGill University in Montreal, “Production of Differential
Amnesia as a Factor in the Treatment of Schizophrenia,” Comprehensive Psychiatry,
February 1960. Cameron “found [his treatment for schizophrenia] to be more successful
than any hitherto reported.” Along with the neuroleptic drug Thorazine
(chlorpromazine) and prolonged sleep lasting 30 to 60 days, Cameron used the Page-
Russell method of ECT administration in twice-daily sessions. Each session consisted of
six 150-volt, closely-spaced electroshocks of one-second each. The third stage of
depatterning occurred after 30-40 such sessions, between 180 and 240 electroshocks in
all. This stage was followed by a “period of reorganization,” during which Cameron
applied his “psychic driving” technique. According to writer JOHN MARKS (The
Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, ch. 8, 1980),
psychic driving entailed bombarding subjects with tape-recorded, emotionally loaded
messages repeated 16 hours a day through speakers installed under the subjects’ pillows
in “sleep rooms.” Several weeks of negative messages, intended to wipe out unwanted
behavior, were followed by two to five weeks of positive messages, to induce the desired
behavior. Cameron established the effect of the negative tapes by “running wires to [the
subjects’] legs and shocking them at the end of the message.” Marks concluded, “By
literally wiping the minds of his subjects clean by depatterning and then trying to
program in new behavior, Cameron carried the process known as ‘brainwashing’ to its
logical extreme.” In 1978, previously secret documents revealed that the CIA partially
funded Cameron’s brainwashing experiments as part of its MK-ULTRA (Mind Control)
Project. The Canadian government was the chief funder of these experiments. Cameron,
who died of a heart attack while mountain climbing, was esteemed by colleagues and
neighbors alike according to this tribute to him in 1967: “He had a deep love of wife and
family, a pervasive humor, an innate sense of fairness, plus a deep resentment of
political maneuvering. Listen to what his neighbors said of him in an editorial after his
death:… ‘His world-wide success in his profession was, of course, due principally to his
great knowledge and brilliance. But surely a great factor also was the softness — one is
tempted to say loveliness — of his personality. Those who were privileged to know him,
even briefly, will not soon forget the warmth and the kindliness of this understanding
man’” (FRANCIS J. BRACELAND [U.S. psychiatrist and past president of the
American Psychiatric Association], “In Memoriam: D. Ewen Cameron, 1901-1967,”
American Journal of Psychiatry, December 1967).
See Gordon Thomas’s entry in 1946 and United Press International’s in 1951 above; and Cameron’s and
Linda Macdonald’s entries in 1963 and Michael Perry’s entry in 1963-1979 below.
D. Ewen Cameron
1957 — This report is based on the study of 214 electroshock fatalities reported in the
literature and 40 fatalities heretofore unpublished, made available through the kindness
of the members of the Eastern Psychiatric Research Association.
The death rate in electroshock therapy has been estimated to be approximately one in
one thousand patients [of all ages] treated…. The death rate is approximately one in 200
patients, or 0.5 percent, in patients over 60 years of age….
[Of the 254 electroshock fatalities under review in this study], one hundred patients
died from cardiovascular causes; 66 patients from cerebral, 43 patients from
respiratory; and 26 patients from other causes. In 19 patients the cause of death was not
DAVID J. IMPASTATO (Italian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Prevention of
Fatalities in Electroshock Therapy,” Diseases of the Nervous System, July 1957.
Impastato’s 42-page article is the most comprehensive and detailed study of ECT deaths
published in the professional literature. Contemporary electroshock psychiatrists and
their supporters rarely, if ever, cite this article in their writings. Three-hundred and
eighty-four deaths, including the 254 deaths reported in the Impastato study, were
documented in Leonard Roy Frank’s History of Shock Treatment. The death reports
were drawn from 109 English-language sources published between 1943 and 1977. The
fully-cited sources are listed chronologically, with each entry specifying the number of
deaths reported and, in some instances, other details (“ECT Death Chronology,” 1978).
See Dennis Cauchon’s first entry (referring to the estimate of 1 death in 200 ECT patients over 60 years of
age) in 1995 below. See also (referring to the 66 ECT deaths from “cerebral” causes) American Psychiatric
Association’s first entry in 1990 and Peter Sterling’s entry in 2001 below.
1957 — The Eastern Psychiatric Research Association has recently debated the question
whether the patient should be apprised of the [electroshock] treatment he is about to
receive. Opinions were about equally divided. I feel that the patient should not be
informed. Knowledge that he is going to receive the treatment could not possibly do the
patient any good; on the contrary, it may do him irreparable harm. Most patients
associate EST with severe insanity and if it is suggested, they will refuse it claiming that
they are not insane and do not need the treatment. If these patients are left without
treatment 10 percent (depressions) will commit suicide. Other patients may be fearful of
the treatments due to information gathered in reading about it or from friends. These
also will refuse to have the treatment. Still others will refuse it because they associate
the treatment with ordinary shock or electric current and fear that they might be
electrocuted. If these patients are forced to undertake the treatment, they may develop
such fear anxiety as to lead to possible suicide. Upon consideration of the fact that it is
the knowledge rather than the ignorance that he is going to receive EST that my lead to
suicide, I recommended that patients be kept in ignorance of the planned treatment. Of
course, the closest relative should know and sign consent for the treatment.
DAVID J. IMPASTATO, “Prevention of Fatalities in Electroshock Therapy,” Diseases
of the Nervous System, July 1957.
1957 — While some therapists exceed the limits of ordinary prudence by overmedication
with potent pharmacologic agents, a few seem to have an attraction for the shock
machine itself with the result that the patient is exposed to what may be called an
iatrogenic [doctor-caused] status epilepticus. An example: “After intravenous injection
of 2.cc. of curare, the machine was set at 70 volts for .4 sec. and a stimulus
administered. Immediately after the initial convulsion, the stimulus was repeated. This
was done four times.” The patient, a 54 yr. old male, died after the fifth procedure….
Use of relaxant drugs unquestionably increases the risk of a fatal accident. In
weighing the relative merits of shock therapy with or without relaxants, the therapist
might well ask himself the question: How many vertebral compressions would he be
willing to trade for one fatality traceable to a relaxant drug? On the subject of risks
associated with cardio-vascular disease, it appears that if a patient can tolerate ECT
combined with a barbiturate-relaxant cocktail, he can take it straight as well. A certain
irreducible minimum of cardiac deaths will occur under any circumstances because the
existing clinical and laboratory methods cannot predict accurately an impending
J. M. RADZINSKY (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Electroshock Therapy without
Muscle Relaxants,” Diseases of the Nervous System, November 1957.
1958 — N. P. Lancaster and associates introduced unilateral ECT in the belief that it was
safer and caused fewer memory problems than bilateral ECT, the standard method of
administration. In bilateral ECT, the electrodes are placed on the patient’s temples so
that the current passes through the brain’s frontal lobe area. In unilateral ECT one
electrode is placed on a temple and the other just above the back of the neck on the same
side of the head so that the current passes through only one, usually the nondominant,
hemisphere of the brain. The advantages and disadvantages of both methods are still
being disputed. Those psychiatrists favoring bilateral ECT seem to have won out,
although most ECT psychiatrists use both methods. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of
ECT today is administered bilaterally. ARTHUR N. GABRIEL, a proponent of
bilateral ECT, wrote, “We have found that unilateral placement requires more
treatments in the long run because we find it clinically less effective. We choose to spare
the patient the additional anesthetic risk of more frequent treatments (“ECT As the
Treatment of Choice,” World Medical News Review, November 1974). Another ECT
psychiatrist, HERVEY MILTON CLECKLEY, said, “My thought about unilateral
stimulation is that it fails to cure. I think this failure to cure is in direct proportion to the
avoidance of memory loss” (quoted in Corbett H. Thigpen, letter to Convulsive Therapy
Bulletin, October 1976).
1958 — Psychoanalysis is not alone in making use of regression in order to favor a new
development. It was recommended by Jesus to Nicodemus, who was astounded by the
recommendation that he be born again and really grow up. The same idea appears in
other (especially Oriental) religions. In a technical sense hypnosis and the insulin
therapy routine depend upon this device. (Footnote: Patients awakening from
electroshock therapy frequently describe themselves as having been reborn.) Indeed, it
occurs to some degree in all hospitalization, whether for psychiatric illnesses or for
medical and surgical illnesses, and in anesthesia, shock therapies, insulin treatment, etc.
(Footnote: The recent reports by scientific observers of various indoctrination programs
by communist governments suggest that [this] important psychological principle has
been employed in the induction of cognitive changes that vary in extent and duration.)
KARL A. MENNINGER (U.S. psychiatrist and “dean of American psychiatry,” 18931990),
Theory of Psychoanalytic Technique, ch. 3, 1958. Psychiatrist FRANCIS J.
RIGNEY JR. (of San Francisco) told the editor in 1975 that while he was training at the
Menninger Clinic during the early 1950s the insulin ward was closed because insulin
patients were “dying off like flies.” No explanation for the ward’s closing appeared in the
Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, a respected and widely read psychiatric journal.
1958 — At work one day in August, [Deputy Director for Plans Frank Wisner, the
Central Intelligence Agency’s third highest ranking official] broke down completely. An
ambulance was called, and Wisner was subdued by hospital attendants and carried out
of L Building by force, while DDP officials watched in shocked silence. Even then Wisner
insisted there was nothing wrong with him — he did not need medical attention, a little
rest would do the trick — but finally Desmond FitzGerald [his friend and a top DDP
official] persuaded him that this was more than ordinary overwork, and Wisner
consented to treatment in Shepherd Pratt hospital near Baltimore. The late 1950s were
the great age of electroshock therapy, and Wisner’s six months at Shepherd Pratt were
an ordeal. He never talked about it to his old CIA colleagues except once, when he said
to FitzGerald: “Des, if knew what you’d done to me, you could never live with yourself.”
THOMAS POWERS (U.S. writer), The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms
and the CIA, ch. 5, 1981. After being released from Shepherd Pratt in 1958, Wisner
returned to the CIA and a less important assignment as chief of station in London. He
left the Agency in 1961 and committed suicide in 1965 at the age of 55.
1959 — This is the Psycho, the
home of the buzz and the prod,
Where the electric shock patients
speak only to the insulins
The insulins only to God.
ANONYMOUS (U.S. psychiatric patient), complete untitled poem, reprinted from a
mental hospital newspaper in Max Rinkel and Harold E. Himwich, eds., Insulin
Treatment in Psychiatry, ch. 10 (discussion), 1959.
1959 — To an attack like that in the electric convulsive treatment, the brain reacts with a
defensive mechanism by producing some substance which I call acroagonine. (Acros in
Greek means extreme; agon: struggle.) This acroagonine denotes a substance of extreme
defense in struggle.
How did I prove the existence of this substance? I obtained a suspension of pigs’
brains which had been submitted to electric convulsive treatment and I injected 1 cc. of
a suspension of this substance in mental patients in a series of 10 to 15. I observed that
these patients first regained their normal sleep patterns, lost their anxiety and their
feeling of guilt, and gradually, after 10 to 20 days, recovered. This treatment was called
electric shock by proxy. Experiments on 300 patients have given positive results while
the control patients injected with a suspension of cerebral substances of non-treated
pigs did not show any improvement.
UGO CERLETTI (Italian electroshock psychiatrist), “An Address,” Journal of
Neuropsychiatry, September-October 1959.
See Leonard Frank’s entry in 1938 above; and Ferruccio di Cori’s in 1963 below.
1959 — Once again I was on the human assembly line: electric shock clubbed my good
brain into needless unconsciousness (and I walked to my several executions like a brave
little chappie instead of questioning them) and unquestioned Old Testament authority
ruled our little club.
SEYMOUR KRIM (U.S. electroshock survivor and writer), “The Insanity Bit” (sect. 1),
1959, Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer, 1968.
1959 — John C. Krantz Jr. introduced Indoklon, a convulsogenic drug, administered by
inhalation or injection, to treat mental illness. Two years later, researchers (including
Krantz) conducted a comparative study involving 90 patients treated with Indoklon and
another 90 treated with ECT. They found that “the complications observed in both
groups… seem to be about the same, except for the fact that there were three deaths in
the ECT group” [editor’s summary].
ALBERT A. KURLAND, T. E. HANLON (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists) et al., “A
Comparative Study of Hexafluorodiethyl Ether (Indoklon) and Electroconvulsive
Therapy,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, July 1959.
1959 — I would like to add to the testimony about the harm of electric shock. I got part
of my medical records, so I know for a fact that I received about 18 shock treatments. I
believe that I [may have] received about twice that many in 1959.
I can’t really testify too much to the terrors, the horrors, of shock treatment, that
some of the people have mentioned here today, because frankly I can’t remember them.
But it’s only been 23 years, and so I am still holding out with the faith that my memory
will indeed return, as the psychiatrists assured my family it would. The psychiatrists at
that time also assured my family, who were reluctant to let me have shock treatment,
that the things they had heard about shock treatment, they could just forget, because
shock treatment was now a much more thoroughly understood procedure. It was now
much different from the things that they might have read or heard about. It was the
new, improved shock treatment….