Would you have electroconvulsive therapy?
A student’s observation of this psychiatric treatment makes her think
Would you have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)? Surely a better treatment for psychiatric problems must exist than passing electrical current through someone’s brain and inducing a seizure. ECT was first used in the 1930s, becoming more popular in the next two or three decades.1 Famous recipients of ECT include the poet Sylvia Plath and the comedian Spike Milligan.23 Nobody is sure exactly how it works, but concerns about possible side effects, such as memory problems, are well documented.1 Some people want it banned.
I was intrigued yet apprehensive about what to expect from my mandatory ECT observation. Most people I discussed it with looked at me with pity: “what an awful thing to watch.” Perhaps they had been influenced by the media’s depiction, in films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and reports of inappropriate use of ECT in the 20th century.4 Although I knew little about ECT and