electroshock therapy

What is electroshock therapy and how does it work?

Psychology has searched for tools or techniques that allow us to face the different psychological problems that arise. In this psychologyorg article, we explain what electroshock therapy is, one of the therapies that are still used for the treatment of different psychological pathologies, a method in which patients are induced to small electrical charges to achieve a change in their neurochemistry.

What is electroshock therapy?

This therapy originates from aversive techniques in psychiatry (currently called ECT/electroconvulsive therapy ) and is used to treat mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

Where does this therapy come from, a technique that is obviously a bit cumbersome? When electroconvulsive or electroshock therapy began to be used in medicine, it was at the beginning of the 20th century, and at that time there were no useful medications or drugs, that is, they had the same pathologies or symptoms as now, but with a complete absence of effective treatments. 

By then, in 1924, Von Meduna examined brain tissue in epileptic and schizophrenic patients and observed antagonism between them. Nyro, in 1929, proposed the treatment of epilepsy using the blood of schizophrenics, and Jablousky, considered epilepsy to have a better prognosis. associated with schizophrenia; Thus Muller in 1930, shared two cases of intervention with favorable results in schizophrenics after inducing epileptic seizures. In 1938 Bini and Cerletti began to use electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy as an intervention for acute psychotic states, but it also had effective results in melancholy.

First, insulin shock therapies were used. In 1935 M. Sakel used insulin in the withdrawal syndrome of morphine addiction and found that excessive doses produced hypoglycemia that caused a favorable psychic and character change. Sakel later began to use insulin comes as a therapy for schizophrenia. But due to the high mortality rate that occurred, the classic Sakel technique had modifications, where the most used is the one proposed by Von Meduna, the association of insulin with carbimazole.

electroshock therapy

What is electroshock therapy used for?

Currently, this type of therapy is used as the last intervention option. It is generally used when patients have not observed any type of adequate response to the treatments to which they have been subjected. Although electroshock treatment is currently much more harmless, it is used mostly or only with patients who have not offered any type of favorable reply; Electroshock therapy is then a procedure that is carried out under general anesthesia and consists of sending small electrical currents through the brain, in order to intentionally cause a brief convulsion and achieve neuronal activation. Different writers and investigators suggest that electroshock therapy induces changes in brain neurochemistry that can rapidly change the symptoms of some psychopathologies.

How Electroshock Therapy Works

This therapy must be performed in a hospital while the patient is under general anesthesia.

  1. A muscle relaxant and a short-acting sedative are offered to the patient to prevent pain.
  2. Electrodes are placed on your scalp, which will serve to monitor brain activity. Two other electrodes are placed on it, which will serve for the distribution of electrical current.
  3. When the patient is sleeping, small portions of electrical current are used to the head to cause seizure movement in the brain. This process takes approximately 45 seconds. Hands and feet move only slightly during the procedure thanks to medications that prevent seizures from spreading throughout the body.
  4. This therapy is administered once every three to five days for six to fifteen sessions.

Electroshock therapy for depression

Electroconvulsive therapy has presented favorable results in the treatment of depression; as described in the journal Psychiatry (2006), the physiological areas that are evidently altered in depressive disorders (the HPA axis «hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis» and the areas involved with 5HT receptors «serotonin receptors») they obtain a rapid change in favor of its correct functioning.

When using electroconvulsive therapy, a significant increase in gray matter has been detected in certain areas of the brain (hippocampus, amygdala, and bilateral parahippocampal cortex) located in the medial temporal lobe. These areas are implicated in the appearance of symptoms of depression and it has been observed that when the gray matter increases in these points, depressive symptoms improve.

electroshock therapy

Electroshock therapy today

At present, electroshock therapy is called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and it continues to be used as the last intervention resource for resistant pathologies or those that have not presented any favorable change in the health of patients who have received psychotherapeutic or pharmacological treatment. Although its methodology has now changed, using sedatives and muscle relaxants to prevent pain or bodily damage, it is still considered an aversive therapy.

Read Also: Benefits of Regular Exercise on Mental Health Psychologyorg


What is electroshock therapy?

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), commonly known as electroshock therapy, is a medical procedure used to treat certain mental illnesses, especially severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It involves the controlled application of electric currents to the brain to induce a brief seizure.

How does electroshock therapy work?

During the procedure, the patient is first given a short-acting anesthetic and a muscle relaxant to ensure comfort and safety. Then, electrodes are placed on specific areas of the patient’s scalp, and a carefully controlled electrical current is passed through these electrodes, which triggers a seizure in the brain. The seizure typically lasts for about 30 seconds to a few minutes.

Is electroshock therapy painful?

No, the patient is under general anesthesia and muscle relaxants during the procedure, so they do not feel any pain. Some patients may experience mild muscle soreness or headache after the treatment, but these effects usually subside quickly.

What is the purpose of inducing a seizure with electroshock therapy?

The exact mechanism of how ECT works is not entirely understood, but it is believed that the induced seizure can lead to changes in brain chemistry and activity, which may help alleviate severe symptoms of certain mental illnesses, particularly depression.

Is electroshock therapy safe?

ECT is generally considered safe when performed by trained medical professionals. The procedure is carefully monitored, and the risks are minimized through appropriate patient selection and proper administration of anesthesia and muscle relaxants. However, like any medical treatment, there are potential risks and side effects, which are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

What are the side effects of electroshock therapy?

Common side effects after ECT may include temporary confusion, memory loss, and headaches. Memory loss is typically limited to the time around the treatment and may improve over time. Other potential side effects include cardiovascular changes, nausea, and muscle aches, but these are usually short-lived and well-managed by medical staff.

Does electroshock therapy work for all mental illnesses?

ECT is most commonly used for severe depression, particularly when other treatments have been ineffective. It can also be effective for some cases of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, it may not be the first-line treatment and is usually reserved for cases where other therapies have not provided sufficient relief.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is electroshock therapy and how does it work? we recommend that you enter our Psychology category.

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