What is Electroconvulsive Therapy? How and Why Is It Used?

Last Update on September 21, 2022 : Published on October 25, 2021
electroconvulsive therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) uses electric current to treat a mental illness. It is used when patients stop responding to their medications or psychotherapy/talk therapy.

Did you know electroconvulsive therapy has a 70 to 90 percent success rate?

It has been recorded that when you are taking ECT with prescribed medications it is going to make a significant difference in your health ( about 90%).  If you undergo ECT while you are not on medication then the efficacy is around 60 to 70 %.

Want to know more about it? Let’s explore electroconvulsive therapy together…

What is Electroconvulsive Therapy?

Electroconvulsive therapy is just like any other therapy that we use to treat various mental health disorders. The difference here is that ECT directly targets the brain. It makes use of electrical current to treat the illness.

In Electroconvulsive therapy the electrical current is made to pass through your brain causing you to have seizures. According to the data collected from the past, ECT has proven to be most effective in the cases of clinical depression.

Electroconvulsive therapy is one of the fastest ways to reduce symptoms especially in depressive and suicidal patients. It has also been successful in treating people suffering from mood disorders and many other mental health related disorders.

Types of Electroconvulsive Therapy

ECT can be divided into two types

1. Unilateral electroconvulsive therapy: In case of unilateral ECT the electric current is passed through electrodes that are placed on one side of the brain. It is supposed to have an impact on the entire brain.

2. Bilateral electroconvulsive therapy: this is used to target a part of the brain and not the entire brain. One of the electrodes is placed on top of the head and the other will go on the right temple area. This will have an impact on the right side of the brain.

What happens during electroconvulsive therapy?

ECT is a form of shock therapy. So, if you are prescribed an ECT treatment then you must prepare yourself in advance. It is not a long procedure but the fear of going through a shock treatment can be mentally exhausting.

Try to gain some knowledge about the therapy so that you are better prepared. Here is a gist of how electroconvulsive therapy works and what its procedure is…

  • Before the procedure can begin, you will have to have an empty stomach. That means no food or water intake for the advised amount of time.
  • Your doctor might also change a few medicines on the day of the procedure.
  • ECT procedure will begin with an anesthesia or a muscle relaxation that will be given to you.

These are used so that ECT doesn’t act as an aversion therapy. Because of anesthesia you will become unconscious and will not remember a thing.

Now that’s a relief! Nobody wants to feel or remember an electric shock.

  • After you become unconscious the doctor will place the electrodes as planned (unilateral or bilateral) and pass a
  • predetermined electrical current through your brain.

Also read: A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners On How To Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Note: The voltage used here is not more than 70 to 120 V. Hence, you are not being electrocuted, only a small amount is being used.

  • The current will result in seizures because it is temporarily going to change your brain’s electrical activity. This is not going to be more than half a minute to one (30 – 60 seconds).

You don’t have to feel scared of being under anesthesia during the entire process because your pulse and heart rhythm will be continuously monitored.

You might require around 6-12 sessions to completely get rid of the symptoms. The interval at which you might require it will be decided by your doctor. If you are not admitted to the hospital, you can go home the same day of your electroconvulsive therapy.

Benefits and side effects of Electroconvulsive therapy

Like all other therapies, ECT will have some side effects and benefits. Let’s have a look at them…

Benefits of ECT

  • It works even when drugs and talk therapy fails
  • It has less side effects when compared to other therapies
  • We can see the results quickly (very fast in relieving symptoms)
  • Effective in high order psychological disorders (suicidal, psychotic, catatonic, clinical depression, mania, etc.)
  • It can be used for pregnant women and people with heart related issues (provided it should be administered safely).

Side effects of ECT

Most of the side effects are physical and will fade after sometime.

  • Headaches and body aches (will last for a few hours)
  • Nausea and vomiting (if at all it is most likely to happen right after the therapy)
  • Irregular heart rhythm (very rare)
  • Memory loss
  • Brain fog or confusion

In very rare cases ECT can also cause death. It is extremely unlikely to happen, only 1 in a million might have a fatal ECT experience. Even though it’s rare, take all the precautions as advised by your doctor.

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Electroconvulsive therapy goes way back to the 1930s, back then we didn’t have anesthesia because of which it was one of the most controversial treatments.

But now with advancement in technologies and science, ECT has become one of the most effective, painless and fastest treatments. It can be used for a large number of mental health disorders.

If you or someone in your family has been prescribed electroconvulsive therapy, worry no more. It is not as scary as it sounds. This blog has all the information you require to get acquainted with the therapy.

If you found this blog helpful do share it with people you think might benefit from this information.

Thanks for reading

Take care and stay safe!

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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