Should ECT Be Used in Psychiatric Treatment?

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When people think of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) they tend to think of R.P. McMurphy (portrayed by Jack Nicholson in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) being, literally, shocked into submission. ECT, to many, is a scary and barbaric process more closely linked to a form of punishment than a therapeutic medical procedure. It is a medical horror story almost a century old. However, as with all things, the over 75 years since ECT was first used it has changed a great deal. It is no longer comparable to an executioner’s electric chair.
First, let’s take a look at the ever present cons of ECT. When first brought into practice, the jolts of electricity would often cause muscle tears and broken bones, “routine use of hypnotics and muscle relaxants has eradicated [these] serious complications” (Sienaert 9). Sienaert goes on to say “Today, headache and nausea are the most common immediate side effects (9). Another, more serious, side effect of ECT is memory loss. Cyrzyk states “a systematic review of patients’ experiences . . . confirmed permanent memory loss in at least 30 per cent of cases (24). Cyrzyk goes on to say “memory disability (loss of working memory) and cognitive disability (loss of higher mental functions of cognition) to varying degrees” (24) should also be included in the list of the adverse effects of ECT. Another concern with ECT is informed consent, or lack thereof. Cyrzyk states “half of the participants reported that they had not received sufficient information about the ECT procedure and the possible side effects” (24). Also, while many think of ECT as a treatment for schizophrenia, patients with schizophrenia only showed “a short-term, small but significant, improvement” (Sienaert 8). Sienaert...

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... its underlying pathophysiology, and the best opportunities to understand the abnormal brain processes that underlie major psychiatric disorders and their remarkable resolution by inducing seizures (Fink 4). I can say no better sentiment on the subject than that.

Works Cited

Cyrzyk, Tomasz. “Electroconvulsive Therapy: Why It Is Still Controversial.” Mental Health Practice 16.7 (2013): 22-27. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 14 May 2014.
Fink, M. “Electroconvulsive Therapy Resurrected: Its Successes And Promises After 75 Years.” Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry 56.1 (2011): 3-4. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 14 May 2014.
Sienaert, P. “What We Have Learned About Electroconvulsive Therapy And Its Relevance For the Practising Psychiatrist.” Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry 56.1 (2011): 5-12. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 14 May 2014.

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