Electroconvulsive Therapy

Depression kills, while ECT saves lives - Sarah Lisanby MD

Electroconvulsive Therapy
Electroconvulsive Therapy

image by: Brandon Waters

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The Return of Electroshock Therapy

One morning in early October, on her final day as the chair of the psychiatry and behavioral-sciences department at the Duke University School of Medicine, Sarah Hollingsworth Lisanby ushered me over to a display case in one of the department’s conference rooms. There, behind glass, sits the world’s only museum, such as it is, of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or what most people still call “shock therapy.” The oldest artifacts on display, some of which are made of polished wood and brass, date to the late 19th century, when electrical stimulation was promoted as a cure for a host of ailments. A mid-20th-century relic labeled electro…

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 The Return of Electroshock Therapy

Can Sarah Lisanby help an infamous form of depression treatment shed its brutal reputation?

Mental Health America

After 60 years of use, ECT is still the most controversial psychiatric treatment. Much of the controversy surrounding ECT revolves around its effectiveness vs. the side effects, the objectivity of ECT experts, and the recent increase in ECT as a quick and easy solution, instead of long-term psychotherapy or hospitalization.


No-one is sure how ECT works, but it is known to change patterns of blood flow in the brain, and also change the way energy is used in parts of the brain that are thought to be involved in depression. It may cause changes in brain chemistry, although how these are related to symptoms is not understood.

National Institute of Mental Health

Electroconvulsive therapy is the best studied brain stimulation therapy and has the longest history of use. Other stimulation therapies discussed here are newer, and in some cases still experimental methods. These include: vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) magnetic seizure therapy (MST). deep brain stimulation (DBS)

Electroconvulsive therapy: A history of controversy, but also of help

Many critics have portrayed ECT as a form of medical abuse, and depictions in film and television are usually scary. Yet many psychiatrists, and more importantly, patients, consider it to be a safe and effective treatment for severe depression and bipolar disorder. Few medical treatments have such disparate images.


ECT is much safer today. Although ECT still causes some side effects, it now uses electric currents given in a controlled setting to achieve the most benefit with the fewest possible risks.

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