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Dr. Peter Breggin’s
ECT Resources Center

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For Patients, Families, Professionals,
Advocates and Researchers

 

(scroll down for full page, over 150 scientific studies, searchable data)

ECT (electro-convulsive therapy, shock treatment or electroshock) involves the application of two electrodes to the head to pass electricity through the brain with the goal of causing an intense seizure or convulsion. The process always damages the brain, resulting each time in a temporary coma and often a flatlining of the brain waves, which is a sign of impending brain death. After one, two or three ECTs, the trauma causes typical symptoms of severe head trauma or injury including headache, nausea, memory loss, disorientation, confusion, impaired judgment, loss of personality, and emotional instability. These harmful effects worsen and some become permanent as routine treatment progresses.

 

If you are new to ECT or shock treatment, here are three suggested steps:

(1) Read and print out the ECT Introduction page. Or instead read and print out the same text in the form of a free color brochure “No One Should Be Given Shock Treatment” that is intended for patients, their families, and other concerned people.

Download and print this free brochure
No One Should Be Given Shock Treatment

(2) Read Dr. Breggin’s blogs on ECT. Like the brochure, these are also useful as an introduction for anyone who is just learning about ECT. See his blogs: “New Study Confirms Electroshock (ECT) Causes Brain Damage,” “The Stealth ECT Psychiatrist in Psychiatric Reform,” “FDA Panel Recommends Testing of ECT Machines,” “Electroshock for Children and Involuntary Adults.”

(3) Read Dr. Breggin’s two overview scientific articles: Breggin 1998 and Breggin 2010. The 2010 article contains a short summary of ECT’s damaging effects that was written to inform the FDA. Also read Jones and Baldwin 1992 for a powerful overview.

 

If you want to pursue the scientific literature concerning injury from ECT
in this resource center (more than 150 scientific papers), here are the steps:

(1) To begin an initial review of scientific reports in the “Table of Contents of Scientific Articles” (below on this page), you can start by searching the term “Key Article.” By searching “Key Article” you will locate a number of basic overview and research studies. Use the search mechanism on your browser by selecting “CTRL + F” and entering the word you want to search.

(2) To explore specific subjects in the “Table of Contents for Scientific Articles” (below), look through the list of “Search Terms” (Key Words) for special topics such as Memory, Women, Abuse, or Brain Damage. An extensive list of search terms with explanations is included below.

(3) To look for specific articles or authors, search by the last name of the first author on the article.

(4) To read a scientific book with an extensive chapter on ECT and a general presentation of the Brain-Disabling Principle of treatment in psychiatry, see P. Breggin (2008). Brain-Disabling Treatment in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

 

To search all the studies in the ECT Resources Center, enter keywords in the search field below.

 

Search Terms with Explanations

 

Abuse
ECT has often been used abusively by husbands to render their wives more docile and submissive, sometimes with the intentional help of the shock prescriber (e.g., Tien, 1972). These studies of abuse also demonstrate the harmful effects on any human being, male or female, regardless of any malicious intent.

Anesthesia
There are risks associated with anesthesia, including death.

Animals
Studies of brain damage in large animals given ECT show cell death and small hemorrhages scattered throughout the brain, often most intensely under the electrode placements. The actual data and graphics in these studies often show more severe damage than the authors’ watered-down conclusions. Hartelius (1952) performed the most important study using cats which led a reviewer of his book (Hartelius, 1953) in a neurology journal to conclude that brain damage had been proven. Instead, Hartelius’ work was ignored by the psychiatric profession and ECT advocates.

Autobiographical
Personal memories of key life events from the past including weddings, the birth of children, and vacations are the most obviously impaired or eradicated by ECT. Sometimes years of homemaking, educational and professional experiences are obliterated. The effect is to demolish the individual’s sense of identity. I have evaluated many of these individuals who lives have been demolished with tragic results for their loved ones as well.

Ban
Professionals and reformers have frequently called for a ban on ECT.

BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)
This is a growth factor whose production is increased in reaction to ECT. It is called a benefit by ECT advocates. In reality, it is a response to brain trauma, and provides more evidence that ECT injures the brain. Also see Neurogenesis (new growth of brain cells), which also occurs after ECT as a response to brain damage, but which some ECT advocates claim is a positive outcome.

Bilateral
Bilateral ECT with one electrode placed on each side the temples over the frontal and temporal regions of the brain is by far the most common form of ECT. It is also the most obviously damaging. Since ECT “works” by damaging the brain and mind, practitioners have been unwilling to give up bilateral ECT because they consider it the most “effective.” To obtain the same results with other forms of ECT, practitioners often give additional numbers or raise the power on the ECT machine in order to inflict additional damage.

Brain Damage
Animal and some human studies confirm that ECT causes brain damage. In humans it is most obviously demonstrated by an initial global loss of mental functioning after each ECT (see delirium) and other typical signs of Head Injury. In many cases this injury progresses with routine ECT into persistent dementia.

Brain-Disabling
The Brain-Disabling principle states that ECT “works” by damaging the brain, sometimes resulting in an initial euphoria (euphemistically called “mood elevation”) and always resulting in varying degrees of apathy, indifference, docility and emotional blunting with an inability to feel or express depressed mood, all of which advocates label as “improvement.”

Caffeine
Caffeine has been used to lengthen seizure duration but increases risk including brain damage.

Cardiovascular (also search Asystole)
ECT can cause heart attack.

Civil Rights
Because ECT patients are not given informed consent (or they and their families would not accept the treatment) and because one or more ECTs will always render the patient unable to protest, ECT is an offense against civil rights. See Involuntary and Coercion.

Cognitive Dysfunction
This is a broad term that encompasses memory dysfunction function as well as impairment in learning new material, abstract reasoning, problem solving and other higher functions. Most ECT studies focus on memory loss but many also mention cognitive dysfunction. Check all the memory resources to get a full picture of broader cognitive dysfunction.

Confusion
See delirium and head injury.

Consent
ECT candidates and their families are never told how damaging the treatment is or they would not agree to it. Furthermore, after one or more ECTs individuals are rendered so helplessly confused and submissive that they become incapable of giving rational or informed consent. Therefore, after a few treatments, all ECT becomes involuntary and therefore abusive and a violation of human rights.

Controversy
Even establishment sources, such as the NIH Consensus Development Conference, agree that ECT is extremely controversial. Potential patients and their families have a right to know this.

Delirium
After one or more treatments, ECT always produces some degree of confusion and disorientation, or delirium, formerly called an acute organic brain syndrome. Therefore, ECT always damages the brain. The only question is “How complete is recovery?” Recovery is always incomplete from routine ECT as evidenced by memory loss and often the individual is permanently and severely impaired. Also see head injury.

EEG or electroencephalogram
Brain wave studies routinely confirm acute harm and in some cases persistent harm to the brain. This is a measure of gross brain malfunction. Also see Flatlining. Changes worse on side of electrode in unilateral nondominant ECT, confirming electrical injury.

Efficacy or Effectiveness (also see Sham)
Controlled clinical trials show no positive effect from ECT beyond 4 weeks after the last treatment. It takes the patient’s brain at least 4 weeks to begin recovering, so ECT only “works” while the patient is acutely injured, suffering from some degree of delirium and gross head injury. Controlled clinical trials in which the control group consists of patients who are anesthetized without being shocked (sham ECT) do not show any benefit from ECT.

Elderly
Many ECT patients are elderly women and the elderly are especially susceptible to harm from any form of brain injury, including drugs and ECT. These articles also confirm increased mortality, brain damage and memory dysfunction.

FDA
The FDA has twice declared that ECT machines, which have never been tested, are unsafe and in need of testing for FDA approval. The first time it suggested testing, the agency backed down under pressure from psychiatry. More recently the FDA has overridden psychiatry and declared that it will require testing of the machines. But the agency has not put forth any plans for testing. The FDA and psychiatry do not want to face how damage has already been done and continues to be done. Also see Machines.

Flatlining of brain waves on EEG
Flatlining of the brain waves on the EEG, also called Postictal Suppression of the EEG, commonly occurs immediately after the ECT-induced convulsion. Flatlining is a lifeless or flat EEG with no electrical signals or brain waves. Some advocates correlate the degree of flatlining with the degree of “therapeutic” effect, again confirming that the damage is what “works.” In reality, flatlining is a sign of severe damage and impending brain death, and when irreversible is used to confirm brain death. Also see brain-disabling principle.

Frontal lobes
One ECT electrode always sits over the frontal lobes and in bilateral ECT both are placed over the frontal lobes on each temple area of the head. The energy is most intense and damaging beneath the electrodes. Therefore, ECT works in part by causing an electrical lobotomy. Also see Lobotomy.

Head Injury
After the first one or two ECT, and increasing with each ECT, individuals develop all the typical signs of what is technically called closed-head injury or simply head injury. These signs include headache, nausea, memory loss, disorientation, loss, disorientation, confusion, impaired judgment, loss of personality, and emotional instability. Euphoria sometimes occurs but is always followed by apathy and indifference. Therefore, there can be no question about whether or not ECT causes brain injury or damage. The only question is “How complete is recovery?” ECT-induced injury to the brain causes lasting harmful effects.

Heart – see also cardiovascular

Intensive (extreme, regressive, annihilation, or intensive ECT)
Intensive ECT involves the administration of more than once ECT per day or large numbers of ECTs over time. The grossness of the harm done to these people shows in the extreme what happens during routine treatment to a less severe but nonetheless harmful degree. Advocates invariably find these very damaged patients to be improved, again confirming the brain-disabling principle of ECT treatment.

Involuntary
ECT is sometimes given against the expressed wishes of a patient by a parent, surrogate or guardian, or by court order. This is an extreme civil rights abuse. See Coercion and Civil Rights.

Key Article
A number of key studies are labeled Key Article to help in beginning an initial review.

Lobotomy and Psychosurgery
Because at least one electrode is placed over the frontal lobes, ECT becomes an electrical closed-head lobotomy as demonstrated in brain function studies.

Many or Multiple ECT
Increasing numbers causes more damage and dysfunction. Also see Intensive.

Machines – see also Thymatron, Somatics, and MECTA
ECT machines have never been tested or approved for use by the FDA. Because it is such an old treatment (invented in 1938), it was grandfathered into use without any testing. In the past there was concern that the machines were unsafe because they delivered too much energy. Crude and untested controls were put on them to control the amounts of electricity delivered and now some advocates lament that they cannot deliver enough power because of the safeties. Nonetheless, the energy level is devastating.

Malpractice suits
Dr. Breggin was the expert in the first successful ECT malpractice jury verdict. After the trial, a state Court of Appeals confirms Dr. Breggin’s testimony about the harm done by ECT. Many other of his cases have been settled.

Memory
Many studies show varying degrees of permanent memory loss and dysfunction and often include more generalized cognitive dysfunction as well.

Neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells)
ECT advocates claim that newly discovered ECT-induced neurogenesis is good for the brain. Instead, neurogenesis is a response to traumatic brain injury. ECT causes small hemorrhages, ischemia, inadequate blood supply, electrical trauma, and other effects which can cause neurogenesis. ECT-induced neurogenesis is one more proof that it causes brain injury. Also see BDNF.

Newspaper
Newspaper articles about controversy swirling around ECT in the US and Canada, including the FDA’s decision to require testing of ECT machines.

Non-ECT
The term “Non-ECT” designates articles that are not specifically looking at ECT or other forms of electrically induced seizures. Some of the articles demonstrate that other forms of injury also produce either neurogenesis and/or BDNF, confirming that neurogenesis after ECT is a response to brain damage. Other articles deal with epileptic seizures. Seizures or convulsions without ECT by themselves can harm the brain and cause permanent damage. However, ECT-induced seizures are much more powerful and damaging, in part because of the electrical trauma and the “therapeutic” goal of producing repeated and prolonged seizures, and even flatlining of the brain waves.

Origins of ECT
The inventors of ECT, Bini and Cerletti, knew and approved the fact that they were causing brain damage. For more about origins, see also see below, Breggin, 1979, pp. 114, 140-141, 164-165, 214-215.

Overview or Review articles
These articles cover a wide range of topics related to ECT and can provide a comprehensive analysis of the harm done by the treatment.

Personal
These articles present the viewpoint of the person or patient after ECT. The most important data about the harm from ECT comes from these self-reports, but ECT advocates avoid listening to their patients and seldom mention their viewpoint in their studies. Reading a number of these studies provides overwhelming evidence for the devastation that ECT causes in the lives of many people. These reports are among the most scholarly as well as the most informative. They represent the academic fields of qualitative, sociological, content and feminist analysis. Also see search items “women” and “abuse.”

Postictal Suppression of brain waves
See Flattening of brain waves.

Seizure
Lengthier seizure duration is sometime advocated but causes more brain damage.

Suicide
There are no studies to support the claim that ECT reduces suicide. ECT does not reduce suicide and instead in some cases worsens it. There is no reason to use ECT as a “last resort.”

Women
Studies on victimization of women by ECT illustrate how ECT can be used as a method of abuse, especially in making people more submissive and docile. These studies also show the damaging effects on anyone, whether female or male. Also see Abuse and Personal.

Worsened
These studies show that ECT’s harmful effects are made worse by pre-existing brain damage, for example, from head injuries or brain disease.