The missing voices of electroshock survivors and Psych Central too takes a stand against ECT

Great commentary on the NYT’s article about electroshock therapy on One Community, One Family Blog. I covered the ECT article here, briefly.

The author at One Community, One Family Blog points out that the New York Time’s gives lots of attention to psychiatrists who support ECT and very little mention of those who do not. The author wisely asks where are the voices of those who have been on the receiving end of ECT?

I excerpt a couple of these voices from that post. Read the rest of the post here. (this is an updated link. The article got moved to a different blog entirely. I’m only updating the link and not the rest of the text in this post)

The Missing Voices

Linda Andre, who received ECT in the early ’80s at the age of 25:

Before shock, patients are specifically told by our doctors that we won’t lose our memory, or that if we do, any permanent loss will be only for the time of the treatment itself, and that any other erased memories will come back.  About permanent loss of cognitive abilities, doctors say nothing.  Thus the double horror: having lives and abilities erased, not only without any warning, but after being assured that it couldn’t happen.  And then when it does, the same doctors just keep assuring you that it didn’t happen.

As if we were so crazy that we don’t even know what we remember and what we don’t remember; I guess that’s what they think.

Here’s what was erased: most of the knowledge and skills accumulated during my college education, my college graduation, a graduation party no one else who attended it will ever forget, my entire relationship with the love of my life, the other important relationships in my life in whole or in part, my career as a writer and scholar, two foreign countries, trips to California, Vermont, Massachusetts, and possibly any number of other states, the reason for the end of a friendship with someone I do remember loving very much, the death of a friend’s brother, the location and contents of a safe deposit box to which I hold the key, and more, much more than I will ever know…

Shock bears about as much relation to gentle and gradual normal human forgetting as being killed in a war does to dying of old age.  Shock kills memories blindly and randomly.  It makes no difference how important the memory was in the first place, or whether it was a bad or good memory.  You can’t get your memories back by tricks like going to the place where they happened.  They don’t come back, ever…

One of the saddest things frequently said about survivors of ECT is that someone is ‘just never the same again.’  There’s even a name for this in the literature: the ‘taming effect.’  Whether or not it is possible to define exactly what’s missing, something essential to one’s humanity and personality – some part of one’s birthright – has been destroyed.  Creativity is especially vulnerable.  Shocked artists no longer create, musicians can no longer play.  Spatial, mechanical, and mathematical abilities can be compromised.  Each person will be most affected by the loss of what she valued most highly…

My life was stolen.  No words can really describe it.  Memory.  Loss.  Forgetting.  None of them come close.

And somewhat more famously, Ernest Hemingway, who received ECT in 1961 and committed suicide shortly thereafter:

Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient….

For more accounts of ECT from people who have experienced the therapy, check out the ECT 1st person project where hundreds of accounts are stored online in an easy-to-access format. read the post here.

Linda Andre is author of Doctors of Deception.

After I put this post together I found that John Grohol at Psych Central also took a stand against ECT:

It is my opinion that ECT devices are neither particularly safe nor particularly effective (as I wrote 3 years ago here). Yes, of course they’ve worked for some people — every treatment works for some people. But they don’t seem to work for most people, and few doctors seem to give a very clear and complete picture of the device’s side effects. Especially when it comes to unrecoverable memory loss.

Grohol entitles his article “ECT’s Final Days.” Wouldn’t that be nice. So far the FDA so rarely functions in the interest of the public that I hadn’t even thought that it was possible that ECT could be ruled so unsafe that banning would be called for. I sure hope Grohol is right and it’s nice to see the article he wrote taking such a stand on his site.

The FDA’s neurological devices advisory panel is scheduled to discuss ECT devices on January 27 and 28.

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