Date: Friday, January 6, 1995

British Expert Warns Against Shock Therapy for Children

Electroconvulsive or shock therapy should not be used for children under 16 because it may cause memory problems and too little is known about other potential hazards, a psychiatric consultant said Thursday.

Dr. Tony Baker, writing in the British medical journal Lancet, questioned the ethics of the treatment known as ECT, saying anecdotes of misuse and damage to unsuspecting and uninformed patients abounded.

In ECT, a short burst of electric current is sent through the brain to induce a convulsion. Although its use has declined, the therapy is still considered important for some patients with severe depression or schizophrenia.

Baker said such electric currents are associated with memory problems and that "young skulls have a lower electrical resistance and for the same electric charge will be exposed to higher current than other skulls."

The British consultant, an expert in childhood trauma, also said ECT should be conducted on those over 16 only under a license system.