Psychiatry Electroconvulsive Therapy Electroconvulsive Therapy Research Paper

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Evidence has been cited suggesting that ECT is particularly efficacious with psychotic depression. Experimental research and reviews of the literature tend to conclude that ECT is either equal or superior to antidepressant medication in the treatment of severe depression. In one study both depressed men and women were helped by ECT, but women tended to improve more with ECT than with imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant. Men tended to improve more with imipramine. Both men and women improved more with ECT than with phenalzine, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). It has been suggested that MAOIs and serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be less clinically effective than heterocyclic antidepressants for severe depression. Thus, ECT's favorable comparison with imipramine is a strong endorsement.

Adverse Effects

The side effect of ECT that has received the most attention is memory loss. ECT results in two kinds of memory loss. The first involves quick forgetting of new information. For instance, shortly after the treatment, patients often have trouble remembering conversations or things they have recently read. This kind of memory loss is short lived and has not been shown to last for more than a few weeks after the completion of ECT (Side effects and risks, n.d.).

The second kind of memory loss concerns events from the past. Some patients will have gaps in their memory of events that took place in the weeks to months and, less frequently, years before the treatment took place. This memory problem also gets better after the completion of ECT. Nevertheless, permanent gaps in memory may exist for some events; predominantly those that took place close in time to the treatment. As with any treatment, patients differ in the degree to which they experience side effects, and more extensive memory loss has been reported. It's important to note that the benefits of ECT are not related to memory loss, that is, patients don't feel better just because they can't remember something. In addition, relief through ECT of a psychiatric disorder can result in improved intelligence, attention and learning ability (Side effects and risks, n.d.).

As for other side effects and risks, scientific evidence strongly speaks against the possibility of ECT causing brain damage. Careful studies in animals have shown no evidence of brain damage from brief seizures such as those given with ECT. In an adult, seizures must go on for hours before brain damage takes place, while, the ECT seizure lasts only about one minute. Brain scans after ECT have shown no injury to the brain. During ECT, the amount of electricity that reaches the brain is too small to cause electrical injury. It is estimated that death associated with ECT occurs in one out of ten thousand patients. This rate may be higher in patients with severe medical conditions and is most strongly associated with the use of anesthesia, just as it would be with any medical procedure (Side effects and risks, n.d.).


Informed consent is obtained before treatment is give. Patients are informed about the risks and benefits of the procedure. Patients are also made aware of risks and benefits of other treatments and of not having the procedure done at all. Depending on the jurisdiction the need for further inputs from other medical professionals or legal professionals may be required. ECT is typically given on an in-patient basis. Prior to treatment a patient is given a short-acting anesthetic such as methohexital, etomidate, or thiopental, a muscle relaxant such as suxamethonium (succinylcholine), and sometimes atropine to inhibit salivation. Both electrodes can be placed one on the same side of the patient's head. This is known as unilateral ECT. Unilateral ECT is used first to minimize the side effects of memory loss. When electrodes are placed on both sides of the head, this is known as bilateral ECT. In bifrontal ECT, an unusual variation, the electrode position is somewhere between bilateral and unilateral (Electroconvulsive therapy administration, n.d.).

Legal Status

It is widely acknowledged internationally that obtaining the written, informed consent of the patient is important before ECT is administered. In the U.S., this doctrine places a legal obligation on a doctor to make a patient aware of the reason for treatment, the risks and benefits of a proposed treatment, the risks and benefits of alternative treatment, and the risks and benefits of receiving no treatment. The patient is then given the chance to accept or reject the treatment. The form states how many treatments are recommended and also makes the patient aware that the treatment may be revoked at anytime during a course of ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy legal status, n.d.).

Public Perception

Despite years of social, political, and legal attacks and lack of acceptance by the general public, approximately one hundred thousand people in the United States and over one million worldwide receive ECT every year (Payne, 2009). But still Electroconvulsive therapy continues to be a treatment of last resort. Until psychiatric professionals develop a more complete understanding of ECT, patients and families are likely to persist to resist ECT as a viable treatment alternative. Well-informed clinicians should be comfortable presenting ECT as a safe, effective, and potentially life-saving therapy for patients who desperately need relief (Keltner & Boschini, 2009).

Even though ECT has been used since the 1940's and 1950's, it remains misunderstood by the general public Many of the procedure's risks and side effects are related to the misuse of equipment, incorrect administration, or improperly trained staff. It is also a misconception that ECT is used as a quick fix in place of long-term therapy or hospitalization. It is also not correct that patients are painfully shocked out of the depression. Unfavorable news reports and media coverage have contributed to the controversy surrounding this treatment (Electroconvulsive therapy and other depression treatments, 2011). Much of the public stigma attached to ECT is based on lurid media depictions of early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia for any number of psychiatric problems or simply for punishment. Modern ECT is nothing like these accounts (Narrow, 2011).

Social Issues and Controversy

Much of the stigma attached to electroconvulsive therapy is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones and other serious side effects (Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), 2011). Although ECT is widely used in depression and some other conditions, it continues to attract controversy. Disagreement mainly centers on the possibility of memory loss and intellectual impairment. Even though the debate about cognitive impairment has received much attention, the question of possible unwanted psychological effects has, until recently, been almost totally ignored. The ECT handbook contains a single paragraph referring briefly to pretreatment anxiety. This omission has been commented on in that doctors who give ECT have shown remarkably little interest in their patients' views of the procedure and its effects on them and only recently has this topic received any consideration in the literature' and by service users. What are never discussed in the literature are the profoundly damaging psychological effects ECT can have on people long-term (Johnstone, 1999).

Original Positive Perception

Since its development in 1938 it has proven effective for the treatment of depression with psychotic features and suicidal ideation (Leinbaugh, 2001). In the beginning this treatment was seen as a good one. It was responsible for saving many peoples lives who suffered from depression and other mental illnesses when no other treatment was available or worked. It wasn't until the discovery of unethical practices being used in regards to the therapy that its positive perception changed.

Unethical Practices

Electroconvulsive therapy has been a highly troublesome therapy. First, there were many examples of ECT being used to subdue and to control patients in psychiatric hospitals. Troublesome patients received several shocks a day, many times without proper restraint or sedation. It has been said that ECT stands practically alone among the medical/surgical interventions in that misuse was not the goal of curing but of controlling the patients for the benefits of the hospital staff (Sabbatini, n.d.).

Replacement with Pharmaceuticals

The introduction of psychoactive drugs quickly replaced these treatments and by the mid-1960s, fever therapy, insulin coma, leucotomy, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) disappeared, a fortunate change in the eyes of many critics who firmly believed that the patients had been abused by these interventions. By the late 1970s, however, as increasing numbers of patients with severe illness failed to improve, even with the cornucopia of new chemical elements and imaginative psychotherapies, experienced clinicians resurrected ECT and found it still effective (Fink, 2011).

Safety and Ethical Developments

Patients in the 1950's sometimes received more than one hundred treatments. The amount of electricity used was also greater, and the waveform and the stimulus were different. Anesthetics and muscle relaxants were not used. Patients were typically shackled to the gurney which often led…

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