Electroconvulsive Therapy is a type of therapy-cum-treatment that can be used to treat severe and persistent symptoms associated with poor mental health.

Like many other types of treatment, there are advantages and disadvantages to it, as we cover in this article.

What is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

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.

Advantages of Electroconvulsive Therapy

  • It is quick: Most mental health treatments take a long time to work – therapy requires dedication, medication is rarely a quick fix, and lifestyle changes also take time. However, ECT provides fast results. 2 to 3 short sessions a week for a few weeks can result in marked improvements.
  • Potential for instant relief: If ECT does work, then it typically relieves all psychiatric symptoms for an individual. As mentioned above, no other treatment can do this, with all of the others taking time.
  • The Evidence is largely good: ECT does have the potential to relieve symptoms, with the evidence suggesting that many people can gain relief from ECT, which can lead to an individual enjoying their life again, with symptoms absent.
  • ECT Saves Lives: As ECT is used in times of emergencies, it can literally save lives. It can be used on those who are in a deeply suicidal state, or in catatonia. The fast results of ECT can help a person that was stuck in a depressive episode.
  • Patient Choice: Unless a person is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, the patient will always have the choice of whether or not to go through with ECT. It clearly isn’t an easy decision, but the patient can opt out right up until the start of treatment.
  • Good for those that can’t take medications: Some people are unable to take medications, meaning that ECT offers an alternative to medicine for a group of people.

Disadvantages of Electroconvulsive Therapy

  • No one knows how it works: Despite scientific advancements, it still isn’t clear how ECT works, or the exact impact it has on the brain. While it seems to work, scientists are still at a loss to explain how.
  • ECT is risky: ECT presents enormous potential dangers. Short-term side effects e.g., memory loss and confusion are common, but long-term side effects may also happen.
  • Relapse is common: ECT doesn’t always provide long-term relief. Even people that have found that ECT relieves their symptoms, they often have to return for more treatment in the future. Relapse is unfortunately common.
  • Ignores the underlying causes of symptoms: Many people appear to suffer from mental health conditions due partly to trauma experienced. ECT doesn’t treat any such past trauma, instead it just deals with the present. Underlying causes might emerge if left untreated.
  • Long-term effects: Some people will have long-term cognitive problems in the months following ECT. This may include verbal problems and memory issues, which can potentially be permanent.
  • Stigma: Unfortunately, ECT still attracts a negative reputation among the public, which can lead to a patient being stigmatised against.

See Also


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[1] Verwijk, E., Comijs, H., Kok, R., Spaans, H., Stek, M., & Scherder, E. (2012). Neurocognitive effects after brief pulse and ultrabrief pulse unilateral electroconvulsive therapy for major depression: a review..Journal of Affective Disorders. 140 (3): p233-243.