(Because of the length of this article, it is in several sections.)

ECT: Sham Statistics, the Myth of Convulsive Therapy, and the Case for Consumer Misinformation

by Douglas G. Cameron

The Journal of Mind and Behavior
Winter and Spring 1994, Vol. 15, Nos. 1 and 2
Pages 177-198

This paper emphasizes that, contrary to the claims of ECT experts and the ECT industry, a majority, not "a small minority," of ECT recipients sustain permanent memory dysfunction each year as a result of ECT. The paper exposes the convulsion hypothesis upon which ECT is allegedly based, as mythological. Finally, through hidden and comparative electrical parameters, it exposes the extreme destructive power of today's "new and improved" ECT devices.

The purpose of this paper is threefold: to identify misleading or false information on memory damage disseminated by electroconvulsive/electroshock therapy (ECT/EST) device manufacturers as well as by the American Psychiatric Association (APA); to provide historical and mathematical proof that convulsive therapy is a myth; and to show that modern ECT/EST devices are much more powerful, not less powerful, than ECT/EST devices of the past.

ECT is the passage (for 0.1 up to 6 seconds), usually from temple to temple through the frontal lobes, of electric current, for the purpose of inducing "therapeutic" grand mal convulsions. Follow-up studies about the effects of ECT in which recipients themselves evaluate the procedure are both rare and embarrassing to the ECT industry. The outcomes of these studies directly contradict propaganda regarding permanent memory loss put forth by the four manufacturers of ECT devices in the United States (Somatics, MECTA, Elcot, and Medcraft), upon whom physicians and the public rely for information, much as the public relies upon pharmaceutical companies for information on drugs.

One of the first and best prospective follow-up studies on ECT recipients was conducted over 40 years ago by Irving Janis (1950). He merely asked ECT recipients personal, mainly biographical questions before they underwent ECT, then again several weeks and months later. In all cases, whether or not the recipients themselves recognized memory loss, they had forgotten much of their personal history. Unpublished conversations with many of Janis' patients six months or one year later (Davies, Detre, and Egger, 1971) led him to conclude the memory loss was long-term, perhaps permanent. (1,2) This is just as the majority of patients have claimed since ECT's inception in 1938 (Brody, 1944; Brunschwig, Strain and Bidder, 1971; Squire and Slater, 1983).

Few other similar studies were performed until Freeman and Kendell's (1980) investigation. In the meantime, doctors (not patients) concluded that ECT was successful and provided marked improvement with minimal side-effects (Bender, 1947, Chabasinski, 1978). Freeman and Kendell's study was prompted by patients who, on BBC radio, described ECT as the most fearful and terrifying experience of their lives. Freeman and Kendell set out to prove that patients were "unafraid" of the treatment. They recounted the following:

We were surprised by the large number who complained of memory impairment (74%). Many of them did so spontaneously, without being prompted, and a striking 30 percent felt that their memory had been permanently affected. (1980, p. 16)

In this study, shock survivors were "invited" back to the same hospital where they had been shocked and many were interviewed by the same doctor who had shocked them. Some of these persons, when asked if they were afraid of the treatment, might have been reticent to admit the treatment was indeed frightening. Even the authors acknowledge this intimidation factor: "It is obviously going to be difficult to come back to a hospital where you have been treated and criticize the treatment that you were given in a face-to-face meeting with a doctor....What is less certain is whether there was a significant number of people in the midground who felt more upset by ECT than they were prepared to tell us" (1980, p. 16) In any case, almost a full third did complain of permanent memory loss: an astonishing number considering the circumstances.

Squire and his colleagues conducted what are perhaps the best known studies on ECT and memory loss. Squire and Slater (1983) report that "55% felt that their memories were not as good as those of other people of the same age and that this was related to their having received ECT" (p. 5). The average reported memory loss was 27 months’ duration for the entire group, and for the 55% who felt they had sustained injury, it was 60 months. Using various cognitive tests, Squire and Slater could not "find" evidence for the latter figure, but they estimated an "authentic" average eighth month gap in memory even after three years. Squire (1986, p. 312) also conceded that his tests may not have been sensitive enough.

Both Janis and Squire concluded that 100% of ECT recipients they tested sustained at least some permanent memory loss, even though some patients denied such loss. Squire's "authentic eight month gap" after three years was that reported by the 55% in their study who felt ECT had damaged their memory. Interestingly, after three years, the 45% who felt ECT had not injured their memories reported an even larger average persisting gap, of 10.9 months (Squire and Slater, 1983). A control group of depressed patients reported a five month gap as a result of depression alone. None was administered ECT, and no one in the group reported any gap in memory three years later. (In fact, control subjects' memories had cleared only a few months into the experiment.) Consequently, Squire and Slater concluded that there existed some actual permanent memory gap as a result of ECT, even for ECT recipients denying such an effect. (3)

The Committee For Truth In Psychiatry, founded by Marilyn Rice in 1984, includes approximately 500 ECT survivors in the United States, who suffer from permanent memory loss as a direct result of ECT. The Committee has the sole aim of convincing or forcing mental health authorities to give truthful informed consent regarding ECT. (4)

Next section: Misinformation from the manufacturers and APA