Is ECT (Electroshock Therapy) an Effective Treatment?

August 19, 2012

Is Electroshock Therapy or Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) an effective treatment?  There seems to be some debate about the effectiveness of what seems like an outdated or cruel treatment for severe cases of mental illness, particularly depression. Surprisingly, it is also sometimes used to treat postpartum psychosis.

What is Electroshock Therapy or “ECT”?  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ECT was first developed in 1938.  With ECT, electrodes are put on the patient’s scalp and a finely controlled electric current is applied while the patient is under general anesthesia. The current causes a brief seizure in the brain. According to, ECT is one of the fastest ways to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal patients. It’s also very effective for patients who suffer from mania or other mental illnesses.  It does sound cruel but the patient is sedated and should not feel anything during the procedure.

My own personal experience with ECT was very frightening.  In 1997, I had been struggling with the after effects of postpartum psychosis and depression for over a year.  I was in no state to make an informed decision about having the ECT treatment but it was recommended so I had it administered.  I remember each time the procedure would start I would feel a strong buzzing in my head for several seconds.  I did not remember anything after that until I was back in my hospital room.  Once back in the room, I would feel nauseous and vomit.  This was the pattern I would experience several times a week for what seemed liked forever but was actually only a couple weeks.

But the question is was the ECT treatment effective?  Honestly, in my case, I can not say for sure because it would go on to be another year with additional treatments administered before I began feeling better.  I had some memory loss which, in my case, subsided.  It doesn’t always for others.

Regardless of my own experience, what does the research say about the effectiveness of ECT treatment?  In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in March 2012, ECT treatment was found to significantly reduce depressive symptoms.  The fact is that it can be an effective form of treatment for some people with severe depression when administered by a properly trained medical professional.

If you have had ECT treatment, please consider commenting about your own experience.  It is helpful to others to get feedback on the effectiveness of specific treatments.


Sources and additional reading:

Study explains how shock therapy might ease severe depression

The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy in treatment-resistant depression: a naturalistic study.

‘Shock therapy’ still used for depression, postpartum psychosis

Electroconvulsive therapy reduces frontal cortical connectivity in severe depressive disorder