When a range of mental health treatment interventions haven’t worked, a person may start to consider having Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).

This is a very big decision – and something that is well worth thinking carefully about. There are advantages and disadvantages to ECT.

ECT is one of the most talked about treatments in the world of psychiatry. Many think it is an excellent treatment, while others suggest it should never be carried out.

What is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Electroconvulsive Therapy (commonly referred to as shock treatment) is a treatment that sees an electric current sent through the brain of an individual. The aim is to trigger an epileptic seizure, with the ultimate objective to relieve symptoms of a mental health problem. The human body is fully restrained during the procedure, which also involves a general anaesthetic. Electroconvulsive therapy is normally a last resort. Despite this, ECT actually has an impressive efficacy rate, with many people finding it helps immeasurably.

When ECT can be offered

A person should only be offered ECT under strict circumstances. The person should have tried numerous other treatments, including multiple medications and different talking therapies.

The person should be in a very ill state, such as being severely depressed, or in a suicidal frame of mind that puts them at a danger to themselves.

ECT is sometimes required in an emergency. For instance, if a person is in the midst of a psychotic episode, or in a state of catatonia, ECT could be useful in relieving symptoms.

If a person does meet the criteria for ECT, they should be informed about the treatment, told how it works, and given information on the risks involved, as well as given the chance to ask as many questions as they want

Advantages and Disadvantages of ECT

We have a dedicated article on the advantages and disadvantages of ECT available [cons.]. But for now, we briefly summarise them.

The ultimate advantage is that ECT can offer rapid results. While medication and therapy can take weeks, months or even years to work, ECT can potentially provide results in weeks.

The evidence is also largely positive for ECT, with studies certainly suggesting that ECT can make a positive difference on those that are deeply distressed, and appears to be capable of saving someone from suicide.

But there are also disadvantages to this treatment. No one knows exactly how ECT works, which worries many people. It seems that ECT “resets” the brain, but again, it isn’t too clear how this is achieved.

There are also risks involved in ECT. Short-term memory loss, confusion and disorientation are all normal. But permanent memory loss, though rare, is a possibility.

Moreover, many people relapse months or years later, and need to go for further ECT treatment. The idea of having to endure regular trips to a hospital for ECT can be off-putting for many.


Clearly, whether or not to receive ECT is a big decision, and something that needs to be thought about in detail. The patient will be able to change their mind right up until the last moment, if they have second thoughts.

The aim is to provide relief from symptoms, and can potentially be a very effective treatment for those in severely poor mental states.

See Also


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