Psychiatric News / 17 January 1986
1974-1986 — [The 65 depressed patients in this study were 80 years of age or older upon
admission to the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence between the years 1974 and 1983.
Thirty-seven were treated with ECT and 28 with antidepressant drugs.] At 1 year
[following treatment] we established a 73.0% survival rate for the ECT group and a
96.4% survival rate for the non-ECT group. At 3 years, the survival rate of the ECT
group was 51.4% compared with 75.0% survival rate for the non-ECT group.
DAVID KROESSLER and BARRY S. FOGEL (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists),
“Electroconvulsive Therapy for Major Depression in the Oldest Old,” American Journal
of Geriatric Psychiatry, Winter 1993. Put differently, the death rate after one year for
the ECT group was 7.5 times higher than that of the non-ECT group: 10 deaths among
the 37 ECT patients (27%) compared with 1 death among the 28 non-ECT patients
(3.6%). The authors reported that “two patients had only 2 ECTs: one withdrew consent,
and the other developed CHF [congestive heart failure] and died before ECT could be
continued” and that there was “lasting recovery” for 22% in the ECT and 71% in the non-
ECT group.” The authors attributed the poor outcomes of the ECT patients to “their
advanced age and physical illness.”
1987 — Nearly twenty years ago, I underwent 30 shock treatments at the Institute of
Living in Hartford, Connecticut. As a result I lost two full years of memory. I have one
child, a daughter, and the two years that were wiped out in my memory were the years
when she was two and three years old; those memories are irreplaceable….
As an advocate for over 8,000 mental health clients in Maine, I do have contact with
many former ECT recipients. I have met many others who have lost over 20 years’ worth
of memory; I have talked with others who, after shock treatments, were unable to
resume their former work and lifestyles because of short-term memory damage. I am
convinced that brain damage from ECT treatments is not only common, but that it is the
rule rather than the exception.
SALLY CLAY (U.S. electroshock survivor and patients rights advocate), letter to the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 9 November 1987, Docket #82P-0316,
Electroconvulsive Therapy Device, Rockville, Maryland, 1982.
1987 — I can write a pretty good letter, I think, but in this case it’s what I can’t do that
counts. I am constantly reminded of what I can’t do… although I could do it once. And
what is “it”? I can’t remember new information with the ease I could before ECT.
Distractions and interruptions seriously interfere with information retention…. Any new
bit of information may “cancel out” the bit that preceded it. My auditory and visual
memory seems to function episodically… enough so I know they exist and how well they
functioned before ECT.
How have these deficits, which developed immediately after ECT, affected my life?
1. When I returned to my 6th grade teaching job after ECT I could not remember how
to teach. Therefore, 5 months after ECT, I attempted suicide.
2. For two and a half years I worked in a kitchen. The loss in income was dramatic but
worse was the total loss of confidence and the perception that I was a complete failure.
3. When I dared to take a college course, even multiple readings of the same material
yielded next to nothing.
4. In September of 1987, I matriculated. However, because the information was
complex and largely theoretical and because I found it hard to remember instructions, I
withdrew from school. I am very fortunate that I survived the subsequent depression.
5. Why am I not making the $40,000 I would be making if I’d remained in teaching?
Why am I praying that I’ll find a job that pays me $16,000? Why am I likely to settle for
less if it will make few demands on my memory? I’m sure I need not answer “why.”
PAM MACCABEE (U.S. electroshock survivor), letter to the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, 20 January 1987, Docket #82P-0316, Electroconvulsive Therapy
Device, Rockville, Maryland, 1982.
1988 — Dr. Max Fink of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, a leading
proponent, believes ECT should be given to “all patients whose condition is severe
enough to require hospitalization.”
EDWARD EDELSON (U.S. journalist), “ECT Elicits Controversy — And Results,”
Houston Chronicle, 28 December 1988.
1988 — By 1988, the number of American private hospitals providing ECT had risen to
444, from only 48 in 1970.
TIMOTHY W. KNEELAND (U.S. political scientist) and CAROL A. B. WARREN
(U.S. sociologist), Pushbutton Psychiatry: A History of Electroshock in America, ch. 5,
1988 — Why do psychiatrists torture people and call it electroshock therapy?
JEFFREY MOUSSAIEFF MASSON (U.S. psychoanalyst, past director of the Freud
Archives, and writer), preface to Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of
Psychological Healing, 1988.
1988 — Added to the beatings and chainings and baths and massages came treatments
that were even more ferocious: gouging out parts of the brain, producing convulsions
with electric shocks, starving, surgical removal of teeth, tonsils, uteri, etc.
KARL A. MENNINGER (U.S. psychiatrist), comparing some of the older methods
used by psychiatrists with some of the more recent ones, letter to Thomas S. Szasz,
1988, published in “Reading Notes,” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, July 1989.
Twenty-four years earlier, Menninger also expressed misgivings about the term
“schizophrenia”: “I avoid using words like schizophrenia just as I avoid using words like
‘wop’ and ‘nigger’” (“Psychiatrists Use Dangerous Words,” Saturday Evening Post, 25
1988 — As a former recipient of ECT, I have ongoingly suffered from memory loss. In
addition to destruction of entire blocks of pre-ECT memories, I have continued to have
considerable difficulty in memory recall with regard to academic pursuits….
Currently, I am finding it extremely embarrassing and hurtful when fellow classmates
(however innocent) refer to my struggles in grasping my study materials, thusly: “You
are an AIR-BRAIN!” How can I explain that my struggles are due to ECT?
As far as the loss of my childhood memories, I often feel as though a very vital part of
my life “died” as a result of these treatments. In particular, when my family refers to
specific earlier experiences, I feel a great sense of loss and grief because I cannot share
their memories, as an ongoing testament of “life”, in totality, as they can easily recall
each vivid childhood happening.
In addition to feeling deeply grieved about my own memory loss, I am also grieved
that countless other fellow citizens risk being needlessly victimized in a like manner due
to ECT devices, and not being honestly apprised by medical practitioners about the risk
of permanent memory loss.
FELICIA McCARTY WINTER (U.S. electroshock survivor), letter to the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, 23 May 1988, Docket #82P-0316, Electroconvulsive Therapy
Device, Rockville, Maryland, 1982.
1988 — One [electroshock] unit went so far as to recommend nurses with big breasts so
that when the patient came out of his death-like coma, he or she was greeted on rebirth
with this invitingly maternal sight.
WILLIAM SARGANT (British electroshock psychiatrist, 1907-1988), quoted in
Timothy W. Kneeland and Carol A. B. Warren, Pushbutton Psychiatry: A History of
Electroshock in America, ch. 3, 2002.
1989 — We were unable to confirm earlier reports that treatment with ECT or adequate
amounts of antidepressants are associated with lower mortality in depressed persons. In
fact, neither general (all cause) mortality rates nor suicide rates varied significantly
among treatment groups.
DONALD W. BLACK, GEORGE WINOKUR (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists) et al.,
“Does Treatment Influence Mortality in Depressives? A Follow-up of 1076 Patients with
Major Affective Disorders,” Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, September 1989. This follow-
up study, which was conducted at the University of Iowa Psychiatric Hospital in Iowa
City, divided 1076 inpatients admitted between 1970 and 1981 into four “treatment
groups”: ECT (372 patients), adequate antidepressants (180), inadequate
antidepressants (317), and neither ECT nor antidepressants (207).
1989 — [Gary] Aden was a founder and first President of the International Psychiatric
Association for the Advancement of Electrotherapy (now the Association for Convulsive
Therapy)…. A newspaper account dated September 27, 1989, in the San Diego Union
[reported]: “Dr. Gary Carl Aden, 53, of La Jolla gave up his medical license effective
September 8 after allegations that he had sex with patients, beat them and branded two
of the women with heated metal devices, including an iron that bore his initials.”
In another story a patient describes Aden as drugging her with a hypodermic before
sexually abusing her and beating her with a riding crop [San Diego Union, 1 January
Aden was permitted to forfeit his license without admitting guilt. He was not
subjected to being psychiatrically diagnosed or treated involuntarily, nor was he
PETER R. BREGGIN (U.S. psychiatrist), Toxic Psychiatry, ch. 9, 1991. Aden had been
medical director of the San Diego Neuropsychiatric Clinic for Human Relations Center
in addition to being the plaintiff in Aden v. Younger, a lawsuit that challenged the 1975
law introduced by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos regulating the use of ECT and
psychosurgery in California.
See Leonard Frank’s second entry in 1974 above.
1989 — It seems to me that ECT is an improved modality and relatively benign when
compared to neuroleptics which can cause tardive dyskinesia and tardive dystonia. I do
not understand why there is so much objection to ECT when neuroleptics are far more
dangerous and often the practitioner will find himself involved in medical malpractice
RAY JEFFRIES (U.S. physician), complete letter to American Medical News, 5 May
1989. Tardive dyskinesia and tardive dystonia are neurological disorders affecting the
muscles. The former is characterized by involuntary, rhythmic movements of the
extremities, face, jaw, tongue, and mouth, such as lip pursing, chewing movements, and
tongue thrusting; the latter is characterized by sustained spasms and twitching. These
potentially severe and irreversible conditions are common among neuroleptic-drug
1989 — The possibility of brain damage is absolutely refuted by brain scans, by
neuropsychological studies, by autopsies, by animal studies, and by analysis of
cerebrospinal fluid and blood chemicals that leak from damaged cells that aren’t
detected in ECT patients.
GLEN PETERSON (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and past director of the
International Psychiatric Association for the Advancement of Electrotherapy), quoted in
Russ Rymer, “Electroshock,” Hippocrates, March-April 1989.
See Peter Breggin’s entry in 1998 and Peter Sterling’s in 2001 below.
1989 — [At last month’s meeting of the American Medical Association House of
Delegates] the AMA endorsed the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) “as an effective
treatment modality in selected patients, as outlined by the American Psychiatric
In a resolution introduced by the California delegation, the association recognized
ECT as “a safe procedure in proper hands.”
PSYCHIATRIC NEWS, complete announcement on ECT, “ECT, Animal Rights
among Topics Discussed at AMA’s Dallas Meeting,” 20 January 1989.
1990 — In light of the available evidence, “brain damage” need not be included [in the
ECT consent form] as a potential risk.
AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION, The Practice of Electroconvulsive
Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment, Training, and Privileging (A Task Force
Report), ch. 3, sect. 5, 1990. The 2nd edition of Practice (2001) was even more
dismissive of the brain-damage risk from ECT. Electroshock psychiatrists were told they
should not (instead of need not) include “brain damage” as an ECT risk in the consent
form. The corresponding sentence in the 2nd edition (ch. 8, sect. 4) read as follows: “In
light of the accumulated body of data dealing with structural effects of ECT, ‘brain
damage’ should not be included [in the ECT consent form] as a potential risk of
treatment.” The APA Task Force on Electroconvulsive Therapy charged with writing the
1990 report was composed of Richard D. Weiner, M.D., Ph.D. (Chairperson), Max Fink,
M.D., Donald Hammersley, M.D., Iver F. Small, M.D., Louis A. Moench, M.D., and
Harold A. Sackeim, Ph.D. (Consultant). Harold Alan Pincus, M.D. and Sandy Ferris
represented the APA Staff. The Task Force for the 2001 2nd edition was composed of
Weiner (Chairperson), C. Edward Coffey, M.D., Laura J. Fochtmann, M.D., Robert M.
Greenberg, M.D. , Keith E. Isenberg, M.D., Charles H. Kellner, M.D., Sackeim, and
Moench (Assembly Liaison). Pincus and Laurie E. McQueen, M.S.S.W. represented the
See David Impastato’s first entry (citing 66 ECT deaths from “cerebral” causes) in 1957 above; and Peter
Breggin’s entries in 1992 and 1998 and Peter Sterling’s entry in 2001 below.
1990 — Advanced age is not an impediment to the use of ECT. The efficacy of ECT
among elderly depressed patients is high, and case reports attest to the safe use of ECT
in patients up to the age of 102. But ECT in the elderly also presents certain age-related
issues that must be considered. With increasing age, seizure threshold may rise, and
effective seizures may be difficult to induce….
Some elderly patients may have an increased likelihood of appreciable memory
deficits and confusion during the course of treatment.
AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION, The Practice of Electroconvulsive
Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment, Training, and Privileging (A Task Force
Report), ch. 3, sect. 6, 1990.
1990 — Individuals vary considerably in the extent to which they experience confusion
and memory problems during and shortly following treatment with ECT. However, in
part because psychiatric conditions themselves produce impairments in learning and
memory, many patients actually report that their learning and memory functioning is
improved after ECT compared to their functioning prior to the treatment course. A
small minority of patients, perhaps 1 in 200, report severe problems in memory that
remain for months or even years.
AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION, Appendix B (Sample ECT consent
form), The Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment,
Training, and Privileging (A Task Force Report), 1990. Comment: “[Psychologist]
HAROLD A. SACKEIM, chief of biological psychiatry at the New York State
Psychiatric Institute [in New York City] and a member of the APA’s six-member shock
therapy task force, says that the 1 in 200 figure is not derived from any scientific studies
[see Sackeim’s second entry in 2001 below]. It is, Sackeim said, ‘an impressionistic
number’ provided by New York psychiatrist and ECT advocate Max Fink in 1979. The
figure will likely be deleted from future APA reports, Sackeim said” (SANDRA G.
BOODMAN, “Shock Therapy: It’s Back,” Washington Post, 24 September 1996). The 1
in 200 figure was removed from the 2nd edition of Practice (2001). The corresponding
paragraph in the sample ECT consent form (Appendix B) was changed to read, “The
majority of patients state that the benefits of ECT outweigh the problems with memory.
Furthermore, most patients report that their memory is actually improved after ECT.
Nonetheless, a minority of patients report problems in memory that remain for months
or even years. The reasons for these reported long-lasting impairments are not fully
understood. As with any medical treatment, people who receive ECT differ considerably
in the extent to which they experience side effects.”
1990 — What shock does is throw a blanket over people’s problems. It would be no
different than if you were troubled about something in your life and you got into a car
accident and had a concussion. For a while you wouldn’t worry about what was
bothering you because you would be so disoriented. That’s exactly what shock therapy
does. But in a few weeks when the shock wears off, your problems come back. These
patients need to deal directly with their lives, and make the changes that will help them
LEE COLEMAN (U.S. psychiatrist), quoted in Vince Bielski, “Electroshock’s Quiet
Comeback,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, 18 April 1990.
1990 — In recent years, to allay growing public fears concerning the use of electroshock,
proponents have launched a media campaign, claiming among other things that with the
introduction of certain modifications in the administration of ECT the problems once
associated with the procedure have been solved, or at least substantially reduced. These
techniques center on the use of anesthetics and muscle relaxants, changes in electrode
placement, and the use of brief-pulse electrical stimulation. However, investigation and
common sense indicate that while these modifications may offer some advantages…, the
basic facts underlying the administration of electroshock have not changed at all. The
nature of the human brain and that of electricity are no different today than they were
more than 50 years ago when ECT was introduced…. When a convulsogenic dose of
electricity is applied to the brain, there is going to be a certain amount of brain damage,
some of which will be permanent. There is even evidence that the drug modifications
make ECT more destructive than ever, for, as central nervous system depressants,
anesthetics and muscle relaxants raise the subject’s convulsive threshold, which in turn
makes it necessary to apply a larger dose of electricity to set off the convulsion. And, the
more current applied, the more amnesia and brain damage. As Reed noted, “The
amnesia directly relating to ECT depends on the amount of current used to trigger the
LEONARD ROY FRANK (U.S. electroshock survivor and editor), “Electroshock:
Death, Brain Damage, Memory Loss, and Brainwashing,” Journal of Mind and
Behavior, Summer-Autumn 1990. The quote in the last sentence is from K. Reed,
“Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Clinical Discussion,” Psychiatric Medicine, vol. 6, 1988.
See Peter Sterling’s entry in 2001 and Frank’s second entry in 2002 below.
1990 — Brainwashing means washing the brain of its contents. Electroshock destroys
memories and ideas by destroying the brain cells in which [they] are stored. A more
accurate name for what is now called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) would be
electroconvulsive brainwashing (ECB).
LEONARD ROY FRANK, “Electroshock: Death, Brain Damage, Memory Loss, and
Brainwashing,” Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer-Autumn 1990.
1990 — With “therapeutic” fury
using instruments of infamy
conduct electrical lobotomies
in little Auschwitzes called mental hospitals
Electroshock specialists brainwash,
their apologists whitewash
as silenced screams echo
from pain-treatment rooms
down corridors of shame.
to a world of narrowed dreams
piecing together memory fragments
for the long journey ahead.
From the roadside
awash in deliberate ignorance
sanction the unspeakable —
silence is complicity is betrayal.
LEONARD ROY FRANK, complete poem, “Aftermath,” Phoenix Rising, July 1990,
reprinted in Frank, “Shock Treatment IV: Resistance in the 1990s,” published in Robert
F. Morgan, ed., Electroshock: The Case Against, 2nd ed., 1991 (1985).
1990 — There was a piano in my house, and Dan told me that I used to enjoy playing it.
Now I didn’t have a clue how it worked. There was a bookshelf full of books that I must
have read, but I didn’t remember anything about them. There were two little boys in my
house who obviously were mine, yet I didn’t remember them.
WENDY FUNK (Canadian electroshock survivor), diary entry, 11 July 1990, “What
Difference Does It Make?” (The Journey of a Soul Survivor), ch. 24, 1998. Funk wrote
this in her diary after undergoing a series of 20 electroshocks at Medicine Hat General
Hospital in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A second series of 10 ECTs was administered soon
after the first series.
1990 — A psychiatrist once told me that ECT specialists were practically “malpractice
free” with elderly patients, because their memory complaints following ECT were easily
attributed to senility or the aging process.
ROBERT F. MORGAN (U.S. psychologist), slightly modified, testimony at public
hearings on ECT conducted by the City Services Committee of the San Francisco Board
of Supervisors, 27 November 1990, quoted in Leonard Roy Frank, “San Francisco Puts
Electroshock on Public Trial,” The Rights Tenet (publication of the National Association
for Rights Protection and Advocacy), Winter 1991. In his testimony, Morgan called for
reparations and free rehabilitative/vocational services for electroshock victims of all
1991 — Table 24-7. Indications for Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
.. Medication-refractory depression
.. Suicidal depression
.. Depression accompanied by refusal to eat or take fluids
.. Depression during pregnancy
.. History of positive response to ECT
.. Catatonic syndromes
.. Acute forms of schizophrenia
.. Mania unresponsive to medication
.. Psychotic or melancholic depression unresponsive to medication.
NANCY C. ANDREASEN (U.S. psychiatrist and past president of the American
Psychiatric Association) and DONALD W. BLACK (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist),
Introductory Textbook of Psychiatry, ch. 24, 1991.
1991 — In Europe during the middle ages, the inquisitors burned bodies at the stake
supposedly to save souls from damnation. Throughout the world in our age,
psychiatrists — the inquisitors’ modern-day counterparts — burn brains with
electroshock supposedly to save minds from insanity. Society now recognizes for what
they were the body-burning atrocities committed centuries ago against many tens of
thousands of people. But it doesn’t recognize for what they are the brain-burning
atrocities being committed in our own time against millions of people.
LEONARD ROY FRANK (U.S. electroshock survivor and editor), modified, testimony
at public hearings on ECT conducted by the City Services Committee of the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors, 5 February 1991. Compare: “Institutional Psychiatry is a
continuation of the Inquisition. All that has really changed is the vocabulary and the
social style” (THOMAS S. SZASZ [Hungarian-born U.S. psychiatrist], The
Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental
Health Movement, ch. 1, 1970).
1991 — A psychiatrist who advocated ECT answered a question from the audience at a
conference on the treatment of schizophrenia: “Of course, shock treatment causes brain
damage, but what’s a little brain damage [in exchange] for clinical improvement.”
BERTRAM P. KARON (U.S. psychologist), introduction to Robert F. Morgan, ed.,
Electroshock: The Case Against, 2nd ed., 1991 (1985).
1991? — After 6 [ECT] treatments my brain felt so “scrambled.” The doctors assured me
that this feeling would be temporary. I refused further treatments and was sent home.
At home I was generally “confused.” My attention span was short, and my memory was
Today is 8 years later. I have been in touch with persons who claim to have been good
friends with me at one time — but I don’t remember them….
When I am asked to describe my experience, my state of mind, this is what I tell
people: Take a brand new jigsaw puzzle, shake the box vigorously to thoroughly mix all
of the pieces, then remove a random handful of pieces and throw them away. Now try to
put the puzzle back together.
G. CHRISTIANE STARKS (U.S. electroshock survivor), “1st Person Project,”
www.ect.org. Starks was 24 when she underwent ECT at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
1992 — The report under review [referring to American Psychiatric Association, The
Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy, 1990] makes clear that organized psychiatry and
leading electroshock advocates are determined not to tell patients about the risks of
ECT. As long as those in control and authority paint so benign a picture of so dangerous
a treatment, psychiatrists and mental health practitioners in general are not likely to feel
obliged to warn potential patients about its hazards. This report provides a shield for
those who administer ECT — an “official” APA report that maintains there is no serious
risk of harm — behind which they can hide from all manner of personal responsibility.
PETER R. BREGGIN (U.S. psychiatrist), “The Return of ECT,” Readings (“A Journal
of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health” published by the American
Orthopsychiatric Society), March 1992.
See American Psychiatric Association’s 3 entries in 1990 above.
1993 — Senate Bill 201, after being signed by Texas Governor Ann Richards, went into
effect on June 20, 1993 and so became—and still is—the strongest law in the United
States regulating and restricting electroshock often referred to as electroconvulsive
“treatment.” The main provisions of the law are:
1. Electroshock is banned for anyone under the age of 16, which is the age of consent
for mental health treatment in Texas.
2. Regardless of psychiatric diagnosis, every Texas citizen has the right to refuse this
procedure unless adjudicated “legally incompetent,” which is an unrelated and far more
involved process than being designated “mentally ill.” But even this chink in the legal
armor against forced electroshock can be sealed with an “advanced directive” made
prior to a competency hearing.
3. Informed consent must be obtained before each individual electroshock treatment
is administered, not merely before the start of a series of treatments. In other words, the
citizen can withdraw from being electroshocked at any time.
4. All deaths occurring within fourteen days of the procedure must be reported to the
Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which annually publishes the total
number of deaths reported.
5. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than
$10,000 or confinement in jail for not more than six months, or both.
Because I had been forcibly shocked in 1971, the passage of S.B. 201 was very
important to me. For 22 years I had actively opposed electroshock. However, my efforts
bore little fruit until 1993 when a “miracle” happened: I met Diann’a Loper, a lobbyist
who in 1987 Texas Monthly had named one of the top ten lobbyists in Texas. She had
also experienced the horrors of electroshock firsthand and was equally determined to do
whatever it took to end, or at least limit the use of this procedure with its devastating,
often lifelong aftereffects [see Cameron’s and Loper’s entries in 1971 above].
Due to discussions I’d previously had with several senators, a bill regulating
electroshock was pending in the Texas legislature. Loper and I lobbied together on
behalf of the bill. We made a good team.she had the political skills and I had become a
lay expert on electroshock, particularly the electroshock machines. My article in The
Journal of Mind and Behavior (1990) was the first to offer scientific proof that the new,
so-called “kinder and gentler” machines were actually much more powerful, and
therefore much more destructive than their predecessors.
Diann’a and I devoted all our energy to having the anti-shock bill passed. In
preparation for the hearings, we founded World Association of Electroshock Survivors,
brought the issue to the public’s attention through the media, and lobbied legislators.
We also arranged for neurologist John Friedberg from Berkeley, California, to meet
one-on-one with members of the Senate Public Health and Human Services Committee,
which had jurisdiction over the bill. Another group brought in psychiatrist Lee Coleman,
also from Berkeley, to talk with legislators. For the hearings themselves, we brought in
psychiatrist Peter Breggin from Bethesda, Maryland, and neurologist Robert Grimm
from Portland, Oregon. The participation of these four courageous physicians in our
lobbying efforts was crucial to passing the bill.
We also organized electroshock survivors to testify at the hearings. For many, this
was their first chance to tell their stories publicly. Most of them linked electroshock with
drastic memory loss, epileptic seizures, disability, fear and humiliation. Opponents of
the bill.mostly physicians who administered electroshock, manufacturers of the shock
machines and a few shock survivors.testified about electroshock’s “wonders.” By the
time both sides had finished, more than 100 witnesses had testified.
In the end our side made the better case. The bill was passed by both Houses and
signed into law. This was a major victory, but as long as people are being electroshocked
anywhere on the planet, we will persevere in our efforts to end this terrible abuse.
DOUG CAMERON (U.S. electroshock survivor and teacher), personal communication,
9 February 2006.
1993 — What I think [ECT] did was to act like a Roto-Rooter on the depression. It just
reamed me clear and the depression was gone.
ROLAND KOHLOFF (U.S. ECT patient and musician), quoted in Lisa W. Foderaro,
“With Reforms in Treatment, Shock Therapy Loses Shock,” New York Times, 19 July
1993. Kohloff, who “was prone to bouts of severe depression,” once told a Newsday
reporter about how ECT benefited him, “Instead of two months in a hospital, I get a
series of treatments for a week and a half and I’m back playing again” (quoted in Joshua
Kosman, “Roland Kohloff — S.F. Symphony’s Timpanist 16 Years,” San Francisco
Chronicle, 5 March 2006).
1993 — A vast medical literature provides strong evidence that electroconvulsive therapy
causes permanent brain damage, including loss of memory and catastrophic
deterioration of personality….
During my 20 years as a community psychiatrist I have treated many patients who
have been subjected to shock therapy. My experience as a clinician corroborates the
many empirical studies that conclude that electroconvulsive therapy is abusive and
inhumane, and causes irreversible physical and emotional damage.
HUGH L. POLK (U.S. psychiatrist), letter to New York Times, 1 August 1993.
See Peter Sterling’s entry in 2001 below.
1993 — Fifteen percent of ECT practitioners in the USA prescribe up to eight inductions
of ECT during the first two anesthetics [i.e., treatment sessions] in severely ill patients.
HAROLD A. SACKEIM (U.S. electroshock psychologist), letter to (and paraphrased
by) Allan I. F. Scott and Lawrence J. Whalley, “The Onset and Rate of the
Antidepressant Effect of Electroconvulsive Therapy,” British Journal of Psychiatry,
1993 — ECT may effectively silence people about their problems, and even convince
some people that they are cured by numbing their faculties and destroying their
memories. It may fulfill a socially-valued function in reinforcing social norms and
returning people to unhappy or abusive situations, or to isolation and poverty without
any expenditure on better services or community development. It is easier to numb
people and induce forgetfulness than to try to eradicate poverty, provide worthwhile
jobs and deal with people’s demands to be listened to, understood, loved and valued as
part of the community.
JAN WALLCRAFT (British electroshock survivor and writer), “ECT: Effective, But for
Whom?” OPENMIND (British journal), April-May 1993.
1994 — If the body is the temple of the spirit, the brain may be seen as the inner
sanctum of the body, the holiest of holy places. To invade, violate, and injure the brain,
as electroshock unfailingly does, is a crime against the spirit and a desecration of the
LEONARD ROY FRANK (U.S. electroshock survivor and editor), “Should ECT Be
Prohibited?” published in Stuart A. Kirk and Susan D. Einbinder, eds., Controversial
Issues in Mental Health, 1994.
1994 — One may see in the faces of patients condemned to electroconvulsive therapy an
expectation that they are scheduled for torture; the casual order — “No breakfast for
you, you’re getting shock this morning” can produce hysteria and panic. Even were it
beneficial, which it is not, the patient’s conviction that he or she is subjected to torture
makes it such. As arms and legs are held down and the body thrashes under the force of
the electrical charge, one is observing torture under the guise of “treatment.”
KATE MILLETT (U.S. psychiatric survivor, writer, and human rights activist), The
Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment, 1994.
1995 — After four [electroconvulsive] treatments, there is marked improvement. No
more egregious highs or lows. But there are huge gaps in my memory. I avoid friends
and neighbors because I don’t know their names anymore. I can’t remember the books
I’ve read or the movies I’ve seen. I have trouble recalling simple vocabulary. I forget
phone numbers. Sometimes I even forget what floor I live on. It’s embarrassing. But I
continue treatment because I’m getting better.
And I actually start to love ECT. I have 19 treatments over the course of a year. I look
forward to them. It’s like receiving a blessing in a sanctuary…. It’s an oddly religious
experience. It’s my meditation, my yoga, my tai chi.
On the one-year anniversary of my first electroshock treatment, I’m clearheaded and
even-keeled. I call my doctor to announce my “new and improved” status and ask to be
excused from ECT that week. He agrees to suspend treatment temporarily. Surprisingly,
I’m disappointed. ECT reassures me. Soon I miss the hospital and my “maintenance”
regimen. But I never see the doctor again. Two and a half years later, I still miss ECT.
But medication keeps my illness in check, and I’m more sane than I’ve ever been. If I
could only remember the capital of Chile.
ANDY BEHRMAN (U.S electroshock survivor and writer), closing paragraphs,
“Electroboy: He Was Hooked up, Switched on, Blissed out,” New York Times Magazine,
24 January 1999. At 32, Behrman was diagnosed with “bipolar disorder.” After being
“treated unsuccessfully with more than 30 medications” during the next year-and-ahalf,
he underwent outpatient ECT at New York City’s Gracie Square Hospital in 1995.
Behrman’s Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania was published in 2003.
1995 — The writer, Dennis Cauchon, reviewed five studies of elderly patients who had
undergone ECT during the 1980s. There were three deaths among the 372 patients
involved in these studies (a death rate of 1 in 124). He mentioned David Impastato’s 1in-
200 estimate of ECT deaths among elderly patients [see Impastato’s first entry in
1957 above] to Duke University psychiatrist Richard Weiner, chairman of the 1990 APA
Task Force on Electroconvulsive Therapy. Weiner, sticking with the Task Force’s 1-in10,000
ECT-mortality estimate, disputed Impastato’s 1-in-200 figure — “If it were
anywhere near that high, we wouldn’t be doing it” [editor’s summary].
DENNIS CAUCHON (U.S. journalist), “Shock Therapy,” USA Today, 6 December
See Sandra Boodman’s first entry in 1996 below.
1995 — [Doctors are expanding ECT’s] reach — to high-risk patients, to children, to the
elderly — altering the profile of who gets shock therapy so much that the typical patient
now is a fully insured, elderly woman treated for depression at a private hospital or
Someone like Ocie Shirk.
Shirk, a widow coping with recurring depression, already had one heart attack and
suffered from atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes rapid heart quivers.
On a Monday at 9:34 am, Oct. 10, 1994, she received shock therapy at Shoal Creek
Hospital [now known as Seton Shoal Creek Hospital], a for-profit psychiatric hospital in
Austin. She had a heart attack in the recovery room. Four days later, she died of heart
Yet shock therapy isn’t mentioned on Shirk’s death certificate, despite repeated
instructions on the form to include every event that may have played a role in the
In addition to Shirk, state records show two other patients died after shock therapy at
Shoal Creek. Asked about these deaths, [the hospital’s chief executive Gail] Oberta
repeats “We could find no correlation between deaths of patients and receiving ECT at
DENNIS CAUCHON, “Shock Therapy,” USA Today, 6 December 1995.
1995 — I’ve never, ever recommended ECT to a patient who didn’t thank me in the end.
ELLEN FRANK (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), quoted in Kathleen Hirsch, “Shock
Therapy Makes a Comeback,” Ms., November-December 1995.
1995 — The treatment [ECT] is admittedly mysterious. One of my colleagues, Dr. Stuart
Yudofsky, once likened it to kicking the television set when the picture is fuzzy. We still
haven’t the slightest clue why it works.
JACK M. GORMAN (U.S. psychiatrist), The Essential Guide to Psychiatric Drugs,
1995 — There is… a growing body of evidence bringing the value of psychiatric medicine
into question. Furthermore, more often than not, this “medicine” is a complete atrocity
— comparable only to the history out of which it grew: Is four-point restraint — being
tied down at the wrists and ankles — an improvement over being bound with chains? Is
the cage inhumane whereas the seclusion room is not? Are the deaths that result from
the use of neuroleptic drugs better than the deaths that resulted from bloodletting? Is
the terror inspired by the passing of electric current through the brain an improvement
over the shock of being submersed in ice water?….
For many of us who have been personally subjected to these practices, the realization
of society’s wholesale acceptance and/or ignorance of them is intolerable. The torture of
those who have been labeled “mentally ill” is not a thing of the past: it is happening now.
The methods have changed over the years, but the cruelty is the same.
JEANINE GROBE (U.S. psychiatric survivor and writer), ed., “But It Doesn’t Have to
Be Forever,” Beyond Bedlam: Contemporary Women Psychiatric Survivors Speak Out,
1995 — It’s more dangerous to drive to the hospital than to have the treatment. The
unfair stigma against [ECT] is denying a remarkably effective medical treatment to
patients who need it.
CHARLES H. KELLNER (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and past editor of The
Journal of ECT), quoted in Dennis Cauchon, “Shock Therapy,” USA Today, 6 December
Paula Illingworth / USA Today / 6 December 1995
Charles H. Kellner
1995 — The death of a chronically ill 79-year-old woman in a mental hospital has
focused new attention on the emotional debate over electroshock therapy as a treatment
for depression. The woman, whose identity is protected by confidentiality laws, died 24
hours after a shock treatment Dec. 30, 1995. Medical records described her as confused
and disoriented when she signed into The Pavilion [an 85-bed, private psychiatric
hospital in Amarillo, Texas] on Dec. 27.
SCOTT PARKS (U.S. journalist), opening paragraph, “Shock Therapy Scrutinized in
Wake of Woman’s Death,” Dallas Morning News, 24 May 1997.
1995 — Psychiatrists don’t make much money, and by practicing ECT they can bring
their income almost up to the level of the family practitioner or internist.
CONRAD M. SWARTZ (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), quoted in Dennis Cauchon,
“Shock Therapy,” USA Today, 6 December 1995. Swartz is co-owner of Somatics, Inc.,
manufacturer of the Thymatron ECT device. According to the American Medical
Association, Cauchon reported, psychiatrists had an average annual income of $131,300
See Sandra Boodman’s second entry in 1996 below.
1994-1995 — Women and elderly people, particularly old women, are [electroshock’s]
chief targets — more damning evidence of psychiatry’s sexism and ageism…. Women in
their eighties and nineties have been electroshocked in general, community and
provincial psychiatric hospitals in Ontario. In 1994-1995, at least 14 women of 80 years
and older were subjected to 158 shocks in eight provincial psychiatric hospitals, an
average of 11 ECTs per patient…. Electroshocking old people is elder abuse. It should be
DON WEITZ (U.S.-born insulin subcoma survivor and Canadian antipsychiatry/social
justice activist), “Electroshocking Elderly People – Another Psychiatric Abuse,”
Changes: An International Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, May 1997.
1996 — Geriatric Patients: Some of the most rewarding outcomes with ECT occur in
elderly, debilitated patients whose primary affective or psychotic disorder is expressed
as dementia (e.g., the dementia syndrome of depression). There is little risk reported in
inadvertently treating a patient who has Alzheimer’s disease; indeed, ECT mitigates
depressive symptoms of patients with primary dementia without persistent worsening of
RICHARD ABRAMS and CONRAD M. SWARTZ (U.S. electroshock psychiatrists),
“Risks, Precautions, and Contraindications,” ECT Instruction Manual, 6th ed., 1996
1996 — Emergence delirium (emergence agitation): About 10 percent of patients
develop a self-limited agitated state almost immediately after the seizure (often before
regaining consciousness), lasting from 10 to 45 minutes or more, and characterized by
restless agitation, aimless repetitive movements, grasping of objects in view, and restless
attempts to rise or to remove monitoring and intravenous attachments.
Emergence delirium is readily terminated by intravenous benzodiazepines [e.g., anti-
anxiety drugs such as Ativan and Xanax] or barbiturates [e.g., sleeping pills such as
Ambien and Seconal] if a vein can be found and the patient held still long enough to
inject it — both difficult propositions.
RICHARD ABRAMS and CONRAD M. SWARTZ, “Complications,” ECT
Instruction Manual, 6th ed., 1996 (1985).
See Kalinowsky and Hoch’s 3rd entry in 1952 above.
1996 — According to the 1990 APA [Task Force] report, one in 10,000 patients dies as a
result of modern ECT. This figure is derived from a study of deaths within 24 hours of
ECT reported to California officials between 1977 and 1983.
But more recent statistics suggest that the death rate may be higher. Three years ago,
Texas became the only state to require doctors to report deaths of patients that occur
within 14 days of shock treatment and one of four states to require any reporting of ECT.
Officials at the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation report that
between June 1, 1993 and September 1, 1996, they received reports of 21 deaths among
an estimated 2,000 patients.
SANDRA G. BOODMAN (U.S. journalist), “Shock Therapy: It’s Back,” Washington
Post, 24 September 1996. Based on the Texas Department of Mental Health’s three-year
study, which found that one in 95 patients had died within 14 days of undergoing ECT,
the APA report, with its estimate of one death in 10,000 ECT patients, understated the
ECT death rate by a factor of more than 100.
See Dennis Cauchon’s first entry in 1995 above.
USA Today / 6 December 1996
1996 — Among the small fraternity of electroshock experts, psychiatrist Richard Abrams
is widely regarded as one of the most prominent.
Abrams, 59, who retired recently as a professor at the University of Health
Sciences/Chicago Medical School, is the author of psychiatry’s standard textbook on
ECT. He is a member of the editorial board of several psychiatric journals. The
American Psychiatric Association’s 1990 task force report on ECT is studded with
references to more than 60 articles he has authored….
What is less well known is that Abrams owns Somatics, one of the world’s largest ECT
machine companies. Based in Lake Bluff, Ill., Somatics manufactures at least half of the
ECT machines sold worldwide, Abrams said….
Yet Abrams’s 340-page textbook [Electroconvulsive Therapy, 2nd ed., 1992] never
mentions his financial interest in Somatics, the company he founded in 1983 with
Conrad Melton Swartz, 49, a professor of psychiatry at East Carolina University at
Greenville, N.C. [see Swartz’s entry in 1995 above]. Neither does the 1994 instruction
manual for the device written by Abrams and Swartz, the company’s sole owners and
directors, which contains extensive biographical information.
Financial ties between device manufacturers, drug companies and biotech firms “are
a growing reality of health care and a growing problem,” said Arthur L. Caplan, director
of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
For doctors “the questions that such financial conflicts of interest generate are, do
patients get adequate full disclosure of options or are you skewing how you present the
facts because you have a financial stake in the treatment and you personally profit from
it every time it’s used?” Caplan asked.
“It’s especially disturbing with ECT because it’s so controversial” and public mistrust
of the treatment is so great, he added….
Abrams declined to say how much he has earned from Somatics. Approximately 1,250
machines, priced at nearly $10,000, have been sold to hospitals worldwide, he said.
Between 150 and 200 machines are sold annually, according to Abrams. Somatics also
sells reusable mouthguards for $29, which are designed to minimize the risk of chipped
teeth or a lacerated tongue.
SANDRA G. BOODMAN, “Shock Therapy: It’s Back,” Washington Post, 24
September 1996. Responding to the same failure-to-disclose issue raised in Dennis
Cauchon’s two-part series on ECT (“Shock Therapy,” USA Today, 6-7 December 1995),
RICHARD ABRAMS concluded his letter to the editor (11 December 1995) as follows:
“If there is any shame attached to ECT, it is that it has too often been given by
inexperienced and poorly trained doctors with unsafe and obsolete equipment. A copy of
my book, and one of my ECT devices, placed in each hospital offering this treatment
should go a long way toward correcting this problem.” Abrams, in the 3rd edition of
Electroconvulsive Therapy (1997), disclosed that he is “President of Somatics, Inc., a
firm that manufactures and distributes the Thymatron ECT device” not in the text but
on the back flap of the book jacket.
See Dennis Cauchon’s first entry in 1995 above; and Richard Abrams’s five entries in 1997 below.
1996 — Max Fink, 73, a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York at
Stony Brook, whose passionate advocacy is widely credited with reviving interest in
ECT, receives royalties from two videos he made a decade ago. Fink is one of six ECT
experts who served on the APA’s 1990 ECT task force, which drafted guidelines for the
In 1986 he made two videos about ECT, one for patients and their families, the other
for hospital staff. Each sells for $350 and is used by hospitals that administer ECT. Fink
said that Somatics paid him $18,000 for the rights to the videotapes; he said he receives
8 percent of the royalties. He declined to disclose how much money he has earned from
SANDRA G. BOODMAN, “Shock Therapy: It’s Back,” Washington Post, 24
1996 — ECT is one of God’s gifts to mankind. There is nothing like it, nothing equal to it
in efficacy or safety in all of psychiatry.
MAX FINK (Austrian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), quoted in Sandra G.
Boodman, “Shock Therapy: It’s Back,” Washington Post, 24 September 1996.
See Rich Winkel’s entry in 2005 below.
1996 — One of the most distressing things I find [about electroshock is]… that when I
am trying to remember things, the memories I have are not necessarily my own
memories because of all the research that I did, talking to people and looking through
books and, you know, having big meetings with my friends about what’s happened in the
past and stuff. I am taking their word for things that have happened in my life. And
then, you know, my memory isn’t perfect so I am just remembering what they remember
about things about my life. So someone asks me a question about something that’s
happened in my past and I am like: “Well I think I was told this. So that’s the answer
that I am giving you but honestly I have no idea whether or not that’s true.” It’s a very,
very upsetting feeling to not know yourself or your own life except through second hand
JACQUELINE GUEST (Canadian electroshock survivor and employment counsellor),
testimony at public hearings on electroshock, Toronto, 9 April 2005,
http://capa.oise.utoronto.ca/personal.html. Guest underwent electroshock about 38
times at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, Toronto, in 1996.
1996 — Memory is often equated with the very essence of a person’s “being.” As such,
discussions about ECT’s effects on memory deserve our most careful consideration.
CHARLES H. KELLNER (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “The Cognitive Effects of
ECT: Bridging the Gap between Research and Clinical Practice,” Convulsive Therapy,
1996 — One moment that I remember clearly from my hospital stay for ECT in 1996 is
the horror I felt when after one of my treatments I couldn’t remember how old my
children were. Not only did the ECT not work for me, but my suffering was compounded
when I realized that approximately 2 years of my life prior to the ECT had been erased.
My retention of new information is also severely impaired. If anyone had told me that
this could happen, even a remote chance, I never would have consented to ECT. I would
much rather have lost a limb or 2 than to have lost my memory — my “self.”
JACKIE MISHRA (U.S. electroshock survivor), quoted in Loren R. Mosher and David
Cohen, “The Ethics of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT),” Virtual Mentor (“Ethics
Journal of the American Medical Association”), October 2003.
1995, 1996 — My long-term memory deficits far exceed anything my doctors anticipated,
I was advised about, or that are validated by research. To the contrary, either I am one
in a thousand, a complete anomaly, to be able to document memory loss still remaining
after 3 years and extending as far back as incidents eight to nine years ago, or the
profession in general, after all these years of treatment with ECT, has still failed to
identify and come to grips with the true potential risks.
While the more distant incidents may be random events, they are hardly insignificant
ones: hosting and driving Mother Teresa for a full-day visit to Los Angeles in 1989; the
dinner reception for my National Jefferson Award in Washington, D.C., in 1990, where I
met and sat beside my co-honoree, General Colin Powell; my brother’s wedding in 1991
— the list goes on, and keeps growing as people bring up references to the past in casual
Human memory seems to me to be one of the most precious aspects of our
personality, since our memories are so critical to who we are and how we see ourselves
and others. The memories of our past give us an understanding of where we fit in the
world. I have experienced more than a “cognitive deficit.” I have lost a part of myself.
ANNE B. DONAHUE (U.S. electroshock survivor and attorney), referring to the
memory loss she experienced following two series of ECT in 1995 and 1996, a total of 33
sessions, that she said saved her life, “Electroconvulsive Therapy and Memory Loss: A
Personal Journey,” Journal of ECT (“Official Journal of the Association for Convulsive
Therapy”), July 2000.
1997 — Because ECT is given in virtually every… country of the world — and not
infrequently at much higher rates of usage than in the United States — it is likely that
between 1 and 2 million patients per year receive ECT worldwide.
Will ECT… be replaced by a less intrusive, pharmacologic, therapy that alters brain
function in the desired direction (e.g., via a hypothalamic neuropeptide) but without the
auxiliary convulsion and its attendant risks and drama? Perhaps, but, I think, not
soon…. Despite manufacturers’ claims, no significant progress in the pharmacological
treatment of major depression has occurred since the introduction of imipramine [a
tricyclic antidepressant drug whose trade name is Tofranil] in 1958.
RICHARD ABRAMS (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), Electroconvulsive Therapy, 3rd
ed., ch. 1, 1997 (1988).
See Sandra Boodman’s first entry in 1996 above.
1997 — Any patient who has failed a course of adequate antidepressant therapy should
be offered ECT in preference to another trial with a different compound. In practice, this
covers many depressives who are admitted to the hospital after failing to respond to
outpatient pharmacotherapy. Of course, any patient with a history of previous
unresponsiveness to antidepressants should receive ECT as the initial treatment.
RICHARD ABRAMS, Electroconvulsive Therapy, 3rd ed., ch. 1, 1997 (1988).
1997 — There is little doubt that many patients diagnosed as having acute or
schizoaffective schizophrenia respond remarkable well to ECT…. Every such patient
deserves one full trial of ECT (preferably earlier rather than later in their illness course)
to insure that no treatment will be overlooked that has a chance, however slim, of
halting the otherwise relentless progression of this devastating illness.
RICHARD ABRAMS, Electroconvulsive Therapy, 3rd ed., ch. 2, 1997 (1988).
1997 — Considering the appropriately high social and individual value placed on intact
memory function, it is readily understandable that fears of ECT-induced memory loss
are paramount among a majority of candidates for and recipients of this treatment. The
facile reassurance by generations of psychiatrists (including myself) that such memory
loss was “only temporary” not only occasionally proved inaccurate but served to
inculcate a deserved sense of distrust among patients whose personal experience proved
RICHARD ABRAMS, Electroconvulsive Therapy, 3rd ed., ch. 12, 1997.
1997 — The death rate reported for ECT is an order of magnitude smaller than the
spontaneous death rate in the general population.
RICHARD ABRAMS, 1997, quoted in John Read, “Electroconvulsive Therapy,”
published in Read, Loren R. Mosher and Richard P. Bentall, eds., Models of Madness:
Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Schizophrenia, 2004.
1997 — Researchers have found no evidence that ECT damages the brain….
The idea of ECT is frightening to many people. Some may not know that muscle
relaxants and anesthesia make it a safe, practically painless procedure.
Some people who advocate legislative bans against ECT are former psychiatric
patients who have undergone the procedure and believe they have been harmed by it
and that the treatment is used to punish patients’ misbehavior. This is untrue.
AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION, Fact Sheet: Electroconvulsive
Therapy (ECT), 1997.
1997 — Refinements pioneered by [Harold] Sackeim’s group and others… allow patients
to recover quickly from ECT with fewer side effects. “I’ve had people star on Broadway
the night after receiving treatment,” Sackeim said. (His patients included “people that
you see on TV every night,” he added.) He and his colleagues showed that the amount of
electricity required to induce a seizure varies enormously — by a factor of fifty — from
individual to individual….
The amount of electricity required to induce seizures in humans increases
“in a huge way” from session to session. According to this view, depression is a kind of
mild, long-term seizure that can be ameliorated by an intense, short-term seizure.
Sackeim compared shock therapy to stepping on a car’s gas pedal when an idling engine
is revving too fast. “We’re triggering a seizure in order to get the brain to stop a seizure.”
This explanation is “probably the predominant theory right now,” Sackeim said. “God
knows if it’s true.”
JOHN HORGAN (U.S. writer), The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Mind
Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation, ch. 4, 1999. While writing his book,
Horgan interviewed Sackeim, a psychologist specializing in ECT research at New York
City’s New York State Psychiatric Institute where Sackeim arranged for the author to
observe two patients undergoing ECT.
1997 — As far as we know, ECT does not have any long term effects on your memory or
ROYAL COLLEGE OF PSYCHIATRISTS, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy),
Patient Information Factsheet No. 7, London, 1997.
1998 — There is an extensive animal research 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. Animal and human
autopsy studies show that ECT routinely causes widespread pinpoint hemorrhages and
scattered cell death. While the damage can be found throughout the brain, it is often
worst in the region beneath the electrodes. Since at least one electrode always lies over
the frontal lobe, it is no exaggeration to call ECT an electrical lobotomy.
PETER R. BREGGIN (U.S. psychiatrist), “Electroshock: Scientific, Ethical, and
Political Issues,” International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, vol. 11, 1998.
See Glen Peterson’s entry in 1989 and American Psychiatric Association’s first entry in 1990 above; and
Peter Sterling’s entry in 2001 below.
1998 — Even taking into account that some memory loss can result from stress,
depression, and aging, what I know for certain is that after thirty-six electroshock
treatments, innumerable memories have been literally and permanently erased, with
only occasional freeze-framed flashbacks….
I have discovered that I have totally forgotten persons I used to know well: a friend
told me that after my ECT treatments, I telephoned her, mentioned that I had come
across her name in my address book, and asked, “Who are you?” And I have also found
my explicit, short-term memory debilitated, my IQ quantifiably diminished (attested to
by extensive neuropsychological assessments), my abstract reasoning and learning
facility (such as trying for an ungodly number of hours to figure out how to work a new
phone-fax machine or how to accomplish simple computer tasks) seriously impaired,
my ability to find the words I want and need reduced (such that I struggle to write more
than four or five sentences at a time and have to compensate for the loss of words I
mean with simpler and less precise ones), and my cognitive capabilities weakened to the
extent that I immediately forget what I’ve just read, even losing track of the meanings of
JONATHAN COTT (U.S. electroshock survivor and writer), On the Sea of Memory: A
Journey from Forgetting to Remembering, ch. 1, 2005. In 1998, Cott had 26 of his 36
ECTs at New York City’s New York State Psychiatric Institute, a major center for ECT
research. Actor RICHARD GERE wrote this blurb for the jacket of Cott’s book: “On
the Sea of Memory is a scary book, a teaching book. Jonathan Cott has given us a
journal, a poem, a conversation, and perhaps more than anything, a cry of pain and rage
against mental illness but equally against a medical community that doesn’t level with
us about the often disastrous effects of electroshock therapy. This is a major and deeply
personal exploration of mind, memory, spirit, science, reality, love — and reflects the
unstoppable will of a man to reclaim a creative and meaningful life.”
1988, 1998 —I was shown a short video [about ECT] in the hospital. The video actually
showed the person going through a course of being shocked. What I don’t remember the
video showing was that… [ellipsis in original]. The video did not show the person
awakening in the recovery room alone and disoriented. I don’t remember the video
showing that individual shuffling back to the ward lounge, ashamed under the watchful
gaze of fellow inmates. I am becoming fairly convinced that in psychiatric training,
neurology must be offered as an early morning class because the psychiatrists are
obviously missing something very important. That very obvious and important thing is
that blunt force trauma to the brain is not healing. Blunt force trauma to the brain is
damaging. I think that the next time psychiatrists hold a convention we should hand out
some pamphlets in comic book form of course, so they can understand, Blunt Force
Trauma and You.
CHRIS DOWLING (Canadian electroshock survivor and community mental health
worker), testimony at public hearings on electroshock, Toronto, 9 April 2005,
http://capa.oise.utoronto.ca/personal.html. Dowling underwent about 30 electroshocks
at the Homewood Health Centre, Guelph, Ontario, in 1988 and 1998.
1999 — My memory is terrible, absolutely terrible. I can’t even remember Sarah’s first
steps, and that’s really hurtful… losing the memory of the kids growing up was awful….
I can be reading a magazine and I get halfway through or nearly to the end and I can’t
remember what it’s about, so I’ve got to read it all over again….
People would come up to me in the street that knew me and would tell me how they
knew me and I had no recollection of them at all… very frightening….