Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

By Christina Anderson

Formerly known as electroshock therapy, ECT is a controversial psychiatric treatment in which anaesthetized patients receive electrically induced seizures through the use of electrodes placed on the skull. ECT has proven effective in clinical studies for treating severe depression; it is also used to treat other disorders such as schizophrenia and mania.

Example: A patient whose severe depression has not responded well to medication opts to receive ECT treatment as a last resort. After waking up from the anaesthesia, he experiences headache and memory loss for a few hours, but once his head clears his depressive symptoms are markedly reduced.

The frequency of these treatments is related to the severity of the symptoms experienced and how much of an improvement is seen after a session. On average, most patients undergo 6-12 of these short sessions. During an ECT treatment the patient is put under general anaesthesia, so they will not be awake during the procedure.

One of the most typical symptoms after an ECT treatment is memory loss or memory impairment, where a patient may not be able to remember aspects of the procedure prior to being put under anaesthetic. Some patients may experience more significant memory loss, and may never recover some parts of their memory. There is no way to predict the level of memory loss that an individual may experience when undergoing ECT, which is another reason why ECT is seen as a last resort for treating some disorders.

To read about what to expect from an ECT treatment, please go to: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2010/what-to-expect-from-an-electroconvulsive-therapy-ect-treatment/


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Jul 2012