Tag Archives: shock “treatment”

Psychiatry Has the Moral High Ground (According to Jeffrey Lieberman)


As I suppose everyone knows by now, psychiatry has been on the receiving end of some very serious criticism in recent years.  The criticism has come from many sources, including: survivors of psychiatric “treatment,” non-psychiatric mental health practitioners, journalists, the general public, and even from some psychiatrists themselves.

The content of the criticisms has been equally varied, and includes:  that the concept of mental illness is fundamentally spurious and devoid of explanatory significance; that psychiatric “treatment” (i.e. drugging people) is ineffective, physically damaging and disempowering; that psychiatry has forged and continues to maintain corrupt and corrupting relationships with the pharmaceutical industry with regards to the peddling of drugs and the hijacking of research for commercial ends; etc…

By any standard, these are very serious criticisms.  I cannot recall ever seeing another profession take such a hammering, but I believe that if a bona fide profession did receive such criticism, they would take it seriously, conduct investigations, and start cleaning house.  This kind of honest self-appraisal has been almost totally lacking in psychiatry’s case.  Instead, we’ve received spin, spin, and more spin.


Dr. Lieberman is the recently installed president of the APA.  On June 18, he posted an article on Psychiatric News, the online journal of the APA.  The article, What It Means to Be President, is a response to the recent criticism.  Or more accurately, it purports to be a response.  In fact, it addresses not one substantive issue.  The general tone is:  why won’t you bad people stop picking on us good psychiatrists?

My first inclination was to ignore the piece.  There are more important issues to write about.  But Dr. Lieberman is the president of the APA.  This is as close as it gets to psychiatry’s “official” response to its critics.  For this reason, I believe that Dr. Lieberman’s rhetoric should receive some scrutiny.


Dr. Lieberman begins by telling us that he was moved by a recent ceremony in San Francisco for swearing in the APA’s latest batch of distinguished fellows.  He attributes his emotionality on this occasion to the “current challenges” facing psychiatry.  He provides a list of these challenges:

1. undelivered healthcare reform
2.  continuing stigma
3.  wanton criticism of psychiatry and the APA, and
4.  an enormuous burden of illness caused by mental illness and unmet clinical need for treatment.

It’s not clear what Dr. Lieberman means by undelivered healthcare reform.  With regards to stigma, I presume that he’s talking about the stigma of clients.  He doesn’t seem to realize, however, that promoting the idea that “mental illnesses” are biological actually increases the degree of stigma (Angermeyer et al 2011).

My 2009 edition of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, under the definition of “wanton,” includes the following:

wanton (adj) ….merciless, inhumane; having no just foundation or provocation, malicious …

By using the word “wanton” in this context, Dr. Lieberman is saying that our criticisms are unwarranted and malicious.  Isn’t this the way children argue with each other in the schoolyard?  Did so!  Did not!  You have cooties!  Do not!

Given his position and his history, I suppose it’s reasonable that Dr. Lieberman would challenge our criticisms, but by the same token (his position and his history), it would also have been reasonable to expect something along the lines of logical discourse and factual evidence.  Simply denouncing our criticisms as “wanton” seems, if anything, to add weight to our side of the argument.

I’m not sure what Dr. Lieberman means by the “enormous burden of illness caused by mental illness”.  The putative “unmet clinical need for treatment” is something we’ve heard before, and is difficult to square with the fact that at the present time in the US, antidepressants are the second most prescribed drugs, second only to antibiotics.  That hardly sounds like unmet needs.

Dr. Lieberman goes on to remind us that “we are living in a moment of unprecedented scientific progress and with an array of therapeutic interventions with extraordinary effectiveness.”

The holy grail of psychiatric research for the past three or four decades has been the neurobiological underpinning for its various “diagnoses.”  Literally billions of dollars and centuries of manpower have been poured into this endeavor, but the only way to honestly describe the outcome is:  a total failure.  Even Thomas Insel, MD, who is certainly not one of biopsychiatry’s wanton critics, has admitted this.

So if Dr. Lieberman is aware of some “unprecedented scientific progress” that lends support to psychiatry’s medicalization of virtually all human problems, this might have been a good time to unveil it.

Similarly, with regards to the “therapeutic interventions with extraordinary effectiveness,” it would have been nice to learn what these are.  Perhaps he means neuroleptic drugs that shrink brain volume and lead to poorer long-term outcomes?  Or perhaps he means antidepressants whose effectiveness is about on a par with placebos?  Or perhaps he means electric shock “treatment” that reportedly “works” by obliterating people’s memories?

Dr. Lieberman concedes that it is easy to lose sight of the positive aspects of psychiatry because of:

1.  the recession
2.  the mass shootings
3.  the criticism directed against DSM-5, which incidentally, was “aided and abetted” by the media.

Of course I would suggest that the reason that it is so easy to lose sight of the positive aspects of psychiatry is that they are so few and far between.  But undoubtedly that’s just another example of my wantonness!  And how in the world is the economic recession casting psychiatry in a bad light?

Incidentally, doesn’t the term “aided and abetted” contain a slight suggesting of nefariousness?  Those wicked journalists!

Dr. Lieberman tells us that neither he nor his colleagues could have foreseen any of these dreadful developments.  This strikes me as odd, because the general themes have been out there for decades.  Presumably his attention was elsewhere.  And then – in what I can only describe as a plaintive bleat – he says:  “…they [the criticisms] certainly were not what we signed up for when we decided to pursue a career in psychiatric medicine.”  Poor lamb.  And note the final word – “medicine.”  In other words:  we’re real doctors – really!  Why won’t anyone believe me?

Dr. Lieberman continues:  “…the stigma directed at mental illness and psychiatry continues to be perpetuated by the media disseminating exploitative and misleading information.”  The meaning here is a little veiled, but I guess the gist is that the wretched media have been spreading lies about psychiatrists.  Here again, he might have served his cause better if he’d actually refuted one or two of these “lies.”

At this point, Dr. Lieberman issues his rallying cry:  “…it is time for psychiatrists, and led by the APA, to stand up for our patients and our field.”  This sounds more like a cheerleader than the president of a professional association.

Psychiatry, Dr. Lieberman goes on to tell us, has – and I’m not making this up:

1.  scientific momentum
2.  public health imperative
3.  moral high ground

Momentum, of course, as any student of physics knows, is a directional variable.  It can be forward or backward.  So here I am actually in total agreement with Dr. Lieberman.  Psychiatry does indeed have enormous momentum – but it’s so far backwards that it could accurately be described as pre-scientific.

I’m not sure what public health imperative means.  Something to do with epidemics?

But I do understand the concept of moral high ground, and I find it difficult to reconcile Dr. Lieberman’s claim with the numerous reports of corrupt relationships between “eminent” psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry, and with the fact that the APA routinely endorses for continuing educational credit, pharmaceutical presentations that even psychiatrists acknowledge are nothing more than marketing sessions.

In this context, I think it is also noteworthy that Dr. Lieberman has, or has had, financial relationships with:  Allon; GlaxoSmithKline; Janssen Pharmaceutica Products, L.P. (US); Merck & Co., Inc; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation; Pfizer Inc.; Sepracor Inc.; Targacept; Bioline; GlaxoSmithKline; Intra-Cellular Therapies, Inc.; Eli Lilly and Company; Pierre Fabre; Psychogenics; and Repligen Corporation.  According to ProPublica, in 2012, he received $43,204 from Eli Lilly alone.  But, of course, none of these relationships has ever influenced his professional judgment in the slightest.

If Dr. Lieberman genuinely wants to occupy the moral high ground (as opposed to just talking about it), he needs to introduce sweeping anti-corruption reforms in his own organization, and he needs to start now!

Then we have some more cheerleading.  Dr. Lieberman exhorts his constituents not to be defensive or even timid.  They must raise the awareness of the public and other physicians about – get this – “…the true nature and inherent value of psychiatric treatment and mental health care.”

Can you imagine the president of the kidney doctors association, or the lung doctors association, – or any bona fide medical specialty – spewing this kind of tripe?  People who have kidney failure or lung failure know the value of these treatments.  We don’t need speeches.  We don’t need to have our consciousness raised.  Psychiatry is the only medical specialty that needs spin.

And then it gets even worse:

“So while on one hand I have a healthy dose of frustration and outrage, on the other hand I am very optimistic and bullish on our profession.”

His profession is being criticized severely from several quarters on various issues, all of which have merit.  Dr. Lieberman tells us that this induces in him feelings of frustration and outrage.  These are strong terms.  Is it not almost the essence of maturity that one can listen to criticism with an open mind?  Not according to the president of the APA.  He assures us that his feelings of frustration and outrage are healthy.  In other words, it’s our fault that he’s feeling frustration and outrage.

The inmates I worked with back in the prison, used to call this “flip the script” (attributing the blame for one’s failings onto one’s accusers).

Finally, Dr. Lieberman recounts his goosebump moment as he administered the pledge to the distinguished fellows:

“I suddenly realized that the best strategy to respond to the challenges and criticisms that we faced was to rededicate ourselves to the principles and values that inspired our profession and that the pledge of Distinguished Fellowship beautifully articulated these precepts.”

Dr. Lieberman wraps up his article by quoting the pledge in full.  And it really is a wonderful pledge – replete with lofty goals and aspirations.  One might, however, have a little difficulty mapping it to current psychiatric practice, e.g. “I will faithfully dedicate myself above all to the welfare of my patients…” and “I further pledge to avoid commercialism in my professional life; …and to avoid any financial practice whatsoever that might debase my profession.”


The gist of Dr. Lieberman’s article is:  we psychiatrists are good guys because we have a really good pledge.  Those scoundrels who criticize us are cads and bounders.  And the reason I know they are cads and bounders is because they criticize us good guys.

So far, this is just funny in a pathetic sort of way.  But we need to remember that for Dr. Lieberman, rededicating himself and his psychiatric colleagues to this “beautifully articulated” pledge is: “…the best strategy to respond to the challenges and criticisms” that have been directed against psychiatry.

So, to other mental health practitioners like myself who criticize psychiatry as spurious in concepts and destructive in practice, Dr. Lieberman’s response is: we’re rededicating ourselves to our pledge!

And to those journalists who have seen through the self-serving lies and the facile “logic,” and repeatedly exposed the destructive and disempowering practices, Dr. Lieberman’s response is:  we’re rededicating ourselves to our pledge!

And to the survivors of psychiatric “treatment” who are coming out in increasing numbers and conscientiously cataloging the abuse and stigma and disempowerment they received at the hands of psychiatry, Dr. Lieberman’s response is:  we are rededicating ourselves to our pledge!

And to the heart-broken parents of children who have taken their own lives under the influence of psychiatrically prescribed drugs, Dr. Lieberman’s response is:  we are rededicating ourselves to our pledge!

And remember, dear readers, Dr. Lieberman is the president of the APA.

The Wellbeing Foundation

Thanks to Tommy Morrela on Twitter, I’ve become aware of The Wellbeing Foundation.  They are located in Ireland.  Here are some quotes from their About Us page.

“To call human suffering a disease, something pathological, is deluded. The biological model of psychological distress has no basis in science; it takes away from the equation between ‘healer’, sufferer and society the need for understanding, compassion, healing, prevention and social and political change. The medicalisation of problems of living has to stop. We have a collective duty of care to bring about the destruction of psychiatry in its present form.”

“Countless millions worldwide have been broken in mind and spirit by psychiatric practices; turned into zombies by years of hospitalisation, by lobotomies, by repeated shock ‘treatments’ and by years of medication. They have lived out their lives as institutionalised slaves, their inner light extinguished.”

“Instead of the biological-medical model of psychological distress, with its emphasis on brain chemistry as the ’cause’ of ‘illness’, the Wellbeing Foundation approach is holistic, existential and humanitarian.”

Nothing ambiguous there!

Psychiatry is not something that’s basically OK, but needs some minor corrections.  Psychiatry is something fundamentally flawed that needs to be condemned and ostracized relentlessly.  We need to distance ourselves from this destructive practice and provide genuine help to people who are experiencing difficulties.

Psychiatry has been on its present spurious and destructive track for at least six decades and, with each passing year, reaffirms its total commitment to the disempowering and stigmatizing medical model.

The Wellbeing Foundation has been promoting an alternative viewpoint since 2006.  Please take a look at their website, and pass the word.

A Victim of Psychiatry Speaks Out

I’ve recently come across an October 2012 article by Ted Chabasinski.  It’s on Mad in America and it’s called:  Our Task Is to Take Away the Power of Psychiatry.

Ted tells us that he was was subjected to electric shock “treatment” when he was six years old.  You can see a brief bio here.

Here are some quotes from the October 2012 article:

“Those who benefit from the way things are now won’t give up their money and power without a huge fight.”

“I should note here that the campaigns against so-called ‘stigma’ by groups like NAMI, when studied, showed that they actually made public attitudes toward us even worse.”

“At bottom, psychiatric power is based on what is essentially a religious faith in psychiatry. People believe in the ‘miracles’ of psychiatry in spite of the complete lack of factual basis for these beliefs.”

“We have been attacked and damaged by one of the most evil institutions in this society.”

Ted writes with honesty and conviction.  Please take a look, and pass it along.


ECT – New and Improved?

I’ve just come across a strange article on Mad in America.  It’s called Researchers look at therapeutic benefits of ketamine.  You can see it here.  It doesn’t identify an author, but it’s from the University of Manchester.

The opening paragraph says:

“The largest trial into the use of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in the UK in more than 30 years will look into how the use of the Class C drug ketamine might reduce the side effects of ECT for those being treated for severe depression.”

The research team is to be led by Professor Ian Anderson, a psychiatrist, who is quoted as saying:

“It’s a great opportunity to really study ECT and see how we can improve it. ECT is the most effective treatment we have for severe and Treatment Resistant Depression – but it can cause cognitive and memory difficulties as a side-effect.”

It’s to be a randomized controlled study.  They’re planning to recruit 160 participants who have been referred for ECT, and then randomly assign them to ECT alone or ECT plus ketamine.


I was struck firstly by the comment that this is to be the largest trial into the use of shock “treatment” in 30 years in the UK.  There are to be 160 people in this study, which doesn’t seem all that large given the level of controversy surrounding this “treatment.”

Secondly I was struck by Dr. Anderson’s statement that shock “treatment” can cause cognitive and memory difficulties as a side effect.  The term “difficulties” seems like an understatement.  There is ample documentation in the literature that the memory losses are often massive and devastating.  It is also the case that several authorities on shock “treatment” have stated very clearly that memory loss is not a side-effect, but rather is the main effect.  The rationale that has been presented is that the electric current alleviates depression by obliterating painful memories!

It has also been well documented, incidentally, that shock “treatment” is no more effective at alleviating depression than sham shock treatment, where the person is anesthetized but not shocked.


But what surprised me most was the proposed use of ketamine as an adjunct to shock “treatment.”

Ketamine is a drug used as an anesthetic for animals, and in certain circumstances for humans.  Its effects in humans include anesthesia and hallucinations.  It is used recreationally as a psychedelic drug (street name: Special K), and is in the same drug class as phencyclidine (PCP), also known as Angel Dust.

Dr. Anderson expresses the hope:

“…that ketamine will reduce the longer-term loss of past memories, including autobiographical memory – which may include memories of childhood holidays, growing up and early life – that some people experience with ECT and which can be very distressing.”


I’m no neurologist, but it is my understanding that 450 volts of electricity coursing across the brain causes damage.  I find it hard to imagine how the concomitant injection of a hallucinatory anesthetic could have a mitigating effect on this damage.  I’m left with the suspicion that perhaps the researchers are hoping that the euphoric effects of the drug will reduce post-procedural complaints of headaches and feeling “wiped out.”

In other words, the drug might have some effect on what clients say about the treatment (i.e. fewer complaints), but it seems unlikely that it will reduce the amount of brain damage or memory loss.

The Power of Words to Shape Attitudes

I recently wrote a post called:  Do Major Tranquilizers Make Things Worse?  The post was based on a study by Drs. Harrow and Jobe in which they speculated that the high relapse rate of “schizophrenics” who stop taking their drugs may have more to do with drug withdrawal than the supposed drug efficacy.

Monica, at BeyondMeds, pointed out that these drugs should not be called tranquilizers because some of their effects (e.g. akathisia, tardive dyskinesia, etc.) are anything but tranquil.  And this, of course, is a good point.

I refuse to call them “anti-psychotics” because this name implies that they somehow target psychotic behavior, which is simply psychiatric-pharma spin.  They target all behavior.  Monica suggested neurotoxic chemicals which, of course, is accurate but overly inclusive.  Almost all the psychotropic products are neurotoxic.  I think I’ll go with neuroleptic – something that grips the nervous system.  It’s accurate enough and has a connotation of damage or harm.

In general, I try to be fairly precise with language.  For instance, I don’t usually use the term “mental illness” without putting it inside quotation marks. I do this to make the point that “mental illness” is not something real.  It is a fictitious construct.

Similarly for terms like “schizophrenia,” “bipolar disorder,” etc., the quotation marks, though a hindrance to easy reading, do help clarify the fact that these terms have no objective reference, i.e. they do not correspond to anything that exists in the real world.

But Monica’s comment has me wondering if I need to go even further. Consider the term antidepressant, which I don’t normally put inside quotation marks.  But in fact, we know from numerous studies, including some that were initially suppressed by pharma, that these products do not actually lift depression, but rather contribute to chronic depression.  So perhaps that term needs to be inside quotation marks.

Words are vehicles of communication, but they can also be powerful attitude shapers.  I never use the term electroconvulsive therapy, with its connotations of benign high-tech care.  I prefer shock “treatment.”  But perhaps I should be saying something like electrical destruction of brain cells.  It’s cumbersome but more accurate.

In the same vein, I never use the term medication to describe psychotropic products.  Instead I say drugs.  Psychiatric neurotoxins would be more accurate, but perhaps the general reader might not realize what I meant.

Psychiatry and pharma are aware of the connotative power of words, and they routinely use pleasant or positive sounding names to disguise the true nature of their products and “services.”  (More quotation marks!)

I suggest that we need to become equally vigilant and adept at finding words that convey the spurious nature of their concepts and the destructive effects of their activities.

Or to put it simply:  Let’s watch our language!



Shock “Treatment” Is Not Safe and Provides Little If Any Benefit


When I was a teenager, one of my hobbies was making small transistor radios.  It sounds complicated, but is well within the reach of an average 15-year-old.  You get some magazine articles, learn how to read a circuit, and learn how to use a soldering iron.

A transistor is a small device – about half the size of a pencil eraser – with three wires coming out of it.  In building a radio receiver, the transistors have to be soldered to other devices which are in turn soldered to other devices, etc…  The soldering iron is plugged into a wall outlet, but no mains electricity reaches the tip of the iron.  However, tiny eddy currents can circulate in the tip, and although they are only of the order of milliamps, they can burn a transistor in seconds.  What you have to do is unplug the iron from the socket, make the joint with the tip’s retained heat, and then replug the iron to have it ready for the next joint.  The point being that delicate things require delicate handling, and that electricity can be very destructive.

About the same time, an adult I knew told me that he had recently had shock “treatment.”  I had noticed that he had seemed different.  I asked him what it was like.  “Awful,” he said, shaking his head.  I didn’t ask for any details, and he didn’t elaborate.  I did some reading, and discovered that the procedure involved applying high voltage across the temples which sent a strong electric current through the brain.  I thought about my transistors, and about the delicacy and complexity of the human brain.

In college I heard a number of psychiatrists say that shock “treatment” was very effective for depression, and was perfectly safe.  They also mentioned that the therapeutic effect occurred because the electric current caused a seizure.  They talked vaguely about the current “breaking up” dysfunctional neural circuits and allowing them to “reconnect” in more functional ways, and conceded that for many individuals, repeated “treatments” were needed, sometimes for years, to maintain the benefits.

I had seen a young girl (let’s call her June) have a seizure once in her front yard.  I was about four.  June was lying on the ground and being cared for by her mother and another adult.  I was walking past on the sidewalk with my mother, whom I noticed was in tears.  I had but the vaguest understanding of what was going on, but I definitely got the impression that seizures (or “fits” as we called them then) were not good.  In later years I learned that real doctors go to extraordinary lengths to prevent seizures, precisely because they are so damaging to the brain.

In the early years of my career I often heard that shock “treatment” was both effective and safe.  But I never shook the lessons from the transistors and from June.  It seemed to me that shock “treatment” was a bit like using a jack-hammer to fine-tune a piece of electronic equipment.  The likelihood of improvement seemed low; the likelihood of serious damage seemed high.  I looked for studies that demonstrated efficacy and safety but found very little.


I recently came across a book called Doctors of Deception by Linda Andre.  It’s very compelling reading, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the topic.  Linda received shock “treatment” (now called electroconvulsive therapy) in her mid-twenties.  Prior to that she had been a successful photojournalist with an IQ of 156.  After the shock “treatment” her IQ had dropped to 118, and she had:

“Deficits in executive functioning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, planning… Difficulties with higher level cognitive processes…Significant decrease in her attentional and organizational abilities…severe enough to undermine her ability to work…Results clearly indicative of brain injury secondary to ECT… (p. 9)

Prior to the “treatment” Linda had apparently not been informed of any of these risks.  Most of the book is devoted to her subsequent attempts to highlight the risks (and minimal benefits) of shock “treatment” and to have truly informed consent made mandatory.  She decries in detail the collusive relationship between the shock doctors, the FDA, and the machine manufacturers, and the entire scenario is strikingly similar to the corrupt and corrupting pharma-psychiatry alliance with which we are all familiar.  The PR job that the shock faction have done makes the tobacco industry look like a bunch of ham-fisted schoolchildren.  The shock doctors’ message, fully bought by the media, is – we’re doctors, we know what we’re doing; these other people are crazy – you can’t believe what they say.

But the message that “they” communicate clearly from the pages of Linda’s book is consistent:  gains from shock “treatment” are minimal and transient; damage is severe and lasting.

There’s other reading on the topic.  Peter Breggin, MD, of course, has been an ardent foe for years.  You can read one of his articles here.

John Breeding, PhD, a Texas psychologist, has been an active opponent of ECT for the past 20 years.  You can find his website here.

Fred Baughman, MD, an eminent neurologist, writing in 2011, had this to say about ECT:

“Throughout the more than 3 decades of my neurological practice I have encountered patients treated with ECT who had permanent erasures of parts of their memory.  Think of the extent of memory loss not immediately evident in these and in all patients.  For their own selfish reasons, psychiatrists may wish to call ECT and such end-results ‘therapeutic’ but they never achieve anything but to diminish adaptability in the broadest sense and cannot be called ‘therapeutic or medically justifiable.”

Probably the definitive work on shock “treatment” from the scientific perspective is a 2010 article by John Read and Richard Bentall:  The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review.  The study is a systematic review of the research on ECT from the ’40s through the present.  Their conclusion is startlingly frank:

“Given the strong evidence … of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction, primarily evidenced in the form of retrograde and anterograde amnesia, and the evidence of a slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.”

Formal studies, randomized control trials, and meta-analyses are, of course, the yardstick for truth in any science, including the human sciences.  But the human sciences are unique in that the object of the study is not rocks or electricity or light – but human beings – people.  And although I’ve always been, and still am, a big believer in the need for and the value of research, I also think it’s critical in our work to recognize and listen to the input of individual people.


In this context, I have come across a truly remarkable article by Lucy Johnstone, PhD.  It’s called Adverse psychological effects of ECT, and was published in the Journal of Mental Health in 1999.  Here’s the abstract.

“Although it is known that a proportion of people find ECT distressing to receive, these adverse psychological reactions are little understood. Twenty people who reported having found ECT upsetting were interviewed about their experiences in detail. A variety of themes emerged, including feelings of fear, shame and humiliation, worthlessness and helplessness, and a sense of having been abused and assaulted. This had reinforced existing problems and led to distrust of psychiatric staff. Few had felt able to tell professionals of the strength of their reactions, implying a possible hidden pool of trauma. Implications for the practice of ECT are discussed.”

But the paper also reports verbatim what the “treated” individuals said.  Here are some quotes:

“They asked me if I would agree to it, but they did say if I refused they’d go ahead with it anyway…being forced to stay there is bad enough but being forced to have something that you don’t want is ten times worse, so I did agree, yes.”

“I thought maybe second time around it’ll be much easier and I won’t feel so scared and terrified, but it was just the same, if not a bit more.”

“Afterwards I felt as if I’d been battered…I was just incapacitated, body and mind, like a heap of scrunched-up bones.”

“It was the whole treatment, being carted off I felt like a slave, taken away to this little room and put on a bed. No control, it was awful.”

“It was like I was a non-person and it didn’t matter what anybody did to me.”

“It felt like I had been got at, yes, bashed, abused, as if my brain had been abused. It did feel like an assault.”

“People would come up to me in the street that knew me and would tell me how they knew me and I had no recollection of them at all…very frightening.”

“In a very bizarre sort of way, because the treatment and the abuse was so terrible, it made me come to my senses. I’ve got to get my act together, I’ve got to help myself.”

“Well, it deadens your brain, doesn’t it? That’s what it does.”

There are pages more; a tragic and heart-rending catalog of abuse.


After shock “treatment,” many individuals present fewer management problems and also say that they feel better.  These benefits are usually short-lived, but they constitute the basis for the fiction that ECT is a safe and effective “treatment” for severe depression.

In the early days of shock “treatment” the proponents were more honest about the brain damage, and in fact stated very clearly that it was this very damage that produced the “beneficial” effect.  Here are some quotes:

“I believe there have to be organic changes or organic disturbances in the physiology of the brain for the cure [with electric convulsive therapy] to take place. I think the disturbance in memory is probably an integral part of the recovery process. I think it may be true that these people have for the time being at any rate more intelligence than they can handle and that the reduction of intelligence is an important factor in the curative process. I say this without cynicism. The fact is that some of the very best cures that one gets are in those individuals whom one reduces almost to amentia.” Abraham Myerson (U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), June 1942 [The Electroshock Quotationary]

 “This brings us for a moment to a discussion of the brain damage produced by electroshock…. Is a certain amount of brain damage not necessary in this type of treatment? Frontal lobotomy indicates that improvement takes place by a definite damage of certain parts of the brain.”  Paul H. Hoch (Hungarian-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist), “Discussion and Concluding Remarks,” Journal of Personality, vol. 17, 1948.  [The Electroshock Quotationary]

“From the data available, it is probable that the biochemical basis of convulsive therapy is similar to that of craniocerebral trauma…” Max Fink, MD, psychiatrist, in 1958 (quoted in Doctors of Deception by Linda Andre, p 49)

“After a few sessions of ECT the symptoms are those of moderate cerebral contusion, and further enthusiastic use of ECT may result in the patient functioning at a subhuman level…. In all cases the ECT “response” is due to the concussion-type, or more serious, effect of ECT. The patient “forgets” his symptoms because the brain damage destroys memory traces in the brain, and the patient has to pay for this by a reduction in mental capacity of varying degree.  Sidney Sament (U.S. neurologist), letter to Clinical Psychiatry News, March 1983. [The Electroshock Quotationary]

In addition, it is very well known in neurology circles that one of the side effects of severe brain injury is a short-lived sense of euphoria!

As is the case with psychoactive drugs, the putative therapeutic effect is identical to the toxic effect.  In the immediate aftermath of shock “treatment” people don’t feel depressed because they have lost the ability to feel much of anything.  They don’t present management problems, because they are rendered almost incapable of any kind of executive action; they don’t remember past traumatic events, because their memories have been obliterated.  Sometimes these deficits remit somewhat over time, sometimes not.  But with repeated “maintenance” exposure, the damage becomes extensive and more or less permanent.

Imagine if rheumatologists amputated people’s legs to cure knee joint deterioration.  It would definitely work!

In his wonderful novel Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut, with tongue firmly in cheek, laments the fact that the human brain is simply too big.  He attributes all our woes, all our counter-productive fretting, all our dysfunctional behavior, to this simple anatomical fact, and looks forward to the day when the inexorable adjustments of natural selection will have corrected this aberration.

But you don’t have to wait for evolution.  We have shock “treatment”!!   It’s in a “hospital” near you – right now.

Isn’t it time that this “treatment” went the way of spinning chairs and insulin coma “therapy”?