The dangers of electroconvulsive therapy


See Dr. Breggin’s
ECT Resources Center

with more than 125 annotated scientific articles, glossary of searchable terms and a brochure for patients and families.


ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) damages the brain and mind. In many cases, it results in huge permanent gaps in memory for important life events, educational background, and professional skills. The individual may even lose his or her identity. Even when much less harm is done, individuals continue to suffer from ongoing cognitive difficulties with learning and remembering new things, and with unwanted changes in their personalities. Dr. Breggin has now created a free ECT Resources Center that includes (1) a brochure for patients, families, and advocates, (2) introductory scientific articles that cover the field of ECT-induced harm to the brain and mind, and (3) more than 125 articles about ECT with search terms such as “brain damage,” “memory loss,” “women,” and “abuse.” The ECT Resources Center will help introduce newcomers to the field and provide research materials for advanced researchers as well.

The most detailed recent publication about the harm associated with ECT is found in a chapter in Dr. Breggin’s book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition (2008).

Dr. Breggin was the medical expert in the first and only electroshock malpractice suit won by the injured patient. He was also the expert in a recent malpractice suit against an ECT doctor that resulted in a settlement of more than $1 million. In February 2016, Dr. Breggin gave a strong critique of ECT on the BBC.

In 2007 a long-term follow-up study of ECT patients conducted by a team of shock-advocates lead by Harold Sackeim confirmed Dr. Breggin’s observations that the “treatment” is devastating to the mental functions, frequently causing dementia with permanent disruption of memory and a variety of other cognitive functions.

The acronym ECT stands for “ElectroConvulsive Therapy” (also called EST, for ElectroShock Therapy)  a psychiatric treatment in which electricity is applied to the head and passed through the brain to produce a grand mal or major convulsion. The seizure brought about by the electric stimulus closely resembles, but is more rigorous or strenuous than that found in idiopathic epilepsy or in epilepsy following a wide variety of insults to the brain.

Patients given ECT are administered an electric current of sufficient intensity and duration to produce an acute organic brain syndrome, characterized by the classic symptoms of disorientation to time, place, and person; mental deterioration in all intellectual spheres such as abstract reasoning, judgment, and insight; emotional lability with extremes of apathy or euphoria; and overall childlike helplessness.

Animal studies show diffuse brain damage following ECT: the most common findings are petechial or pinpoint hemorrhages throughout the brain and surrounding blood vessels, as well as areas of gliosis and neuronal degeneration, with patches of cell death (ghost cells and neuronophagia).  Occasionally larger hemorrhages and edema of the brain are found. These findings are also seen on human autopsies performed on ECT patients.

Electroshock treatment (ECT) was developed in 1938 at a time that lobotomy and insulin coma therapy were already in use. Pioneer advocates of ECT openly admitted that it caused irreversible brain damage. In 1979 Dr. Breggin published the first medical book critical of ECT, Electroshock: Its Brain-Disabling Effects (New York: Springer Publishing Company). Dr. Breggin has advocated the banning of ECT, but it continues to be used extensively in most psychiatric facilities. In 1985 Dr. Breggin presented as the scientific expert on the brain-damaging effects of the treatment at the NIH Consensus Development Conference on ECT.

The best source of up-to-date information on ECT memory loss and brain damage can be found in a chapter in Dr. Breggin’s book Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (2008).

The following articles present some additional details and a historical perspective on the campaign against ECT.

 Articles on Electroshock Therapy (ECT) and its dangers by Dr. Breggin or about his work

The following books by Dr. Breggin provide further information on ECT 

Articles on ECT by other researchers (many cited in Dr. Breggin’s books and articles)