Shock therapy is making a comeback today in the treatment of serious mental illness. Despite its reemergence as a safe and effective psychiatric tool, however, it continues to be shrouded by a longstanding negative public image, not least due to films such as the classic One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the inmate of a psychiatric clinic (played by Jack Nicholson) is subjected to electro-shock to curb his rebellious behavior. Beyond its vilification in popular culture, the stereotype of convulsive therapy as a dangerous and inhumane practice is fuelled by professional posturing and public misinformation.
Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has in the last thirty years been considered a method of last resort in the treatment of debilitating depression, suicidal ideation, and other forms of mental illness. Yet, ironically, its effectiveness in treating these patients would suggest it as a frontline therapy, bringing relief from acute symptoms and saving lives. In this book, Edward Shorter and David Healy trace the controversial history of ECT and other “shock” therapies. Drawing on case studies, public debates, extensive interviews, and archival research, the authors expose the myths about ECT that have proliferated over the years.
By showing ECT’s often life-saving results, Shorter and Healy endorse a point of view that is hotly contested in professional circles and in public debates, but for the nearly half of all clinically depressed patients who do not respond to drugs, this book brings much needed hope.
"The persistently suspect characterizations of ECT meant that many patients with mental illnesses who were unresponsive to drugs never received the treatment. As a result, some worsened and some died. This surely represents a lot of potentially avoidable pain and suffering. The backlash against ECT, Shorter and Healy make clear, somehow led to a collective denial about what it could accomplish."—Slate
“Shock Therapy is based on comprehensive research that includes both manuscript and printed sources as well as interviews with individuals who have played key roles in the history of ECT. It is a controversial work, if only because its authors combine both historical analysis and advocacy. Nevertheless, the book--which includes discussions of such contemporary therapeutic innovations as VNS, DBS, and TMS—is a must reading and has relevance for those concerned with the treatment of mental disorders.”—Gerald N. Grob, coauthor of The Dilemma of Federal Mental Health Policy: Radical Reform or Incremental Change?
"This book has groundbreaking potential, and its readability is strengthened by the use of many primary documents, including detailed journal entries and transcripts of interviews with the original scientists involved."—Library Journal
"For the reader who wishes to learn how ECT developed and went through ups and downs in its acceptance by the public, by Hollywood, and by the mental health profession, the book is superb."—New England Journal of Medicine
"Riveting. Apart from describing the origins and continuing evolution of convulsive therapy, the text provides an intimate 'behind the scenes' glimpse into the personalities, careers, and factors motivating the major players in the treatment's history. Shock Therapy is a highly readable...book that may pique the interest of child and adolescent psychiatrists in this and related treatment modalities."
—Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
About the Authors:
Edward Shorter is the Jason A. Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is the author of numerous books, including A History of Psychiatry and Written in the Flesh.
David Healy is a professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychological Medicine at Cardiff University. Formerly, he was the secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology and the author of more than twelve books, including Let Them Eat Prozac.