Shock Therapy

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Title: Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Release Date: September 27, 2007
Pages: 398
ISBN13: 978-0813541693


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.


"A compelling enjoyable read that gives us a rich understanding of the history of psychiatry's most effective treatment, and of the many factors that have stigmatized it and limited its use."
Samuel H. Bailine, M.D., Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, NY

"A fascinating narrative of the history of ECT from its inception to the present, interweaving the personalities, social contexts, and psychiatric developments along the way."
W. Vaughn McCall, M.D., M.S., Wake Forest University Health Sciences

"An important and compelling history of ECT, the life-saving, but much maligned, treatment. Shorter and Healy have given us a work that is at once scholarly and wonderfully readable."
Charles H. Kellner, M.D., Chair, Department of Psychiatry,UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School

"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?

"Shorter and Healy take the reader on a marvellous tour de force through the development of electroconvulsive therapy from the 1930s till today. The historical perspective and first-hand accounts by key players convey the essentials for an understanding of the ideas, the practice, and not least the conflicts and battles that for decades have maligned one of the most efficacious and safe treatments in the whole of medicine. This book is highly exciting, elegantly written, and deserves to reach a wide readership."
Tom G. Bolwig, M.D., University of Copenhagen

"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

"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