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Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

With components in clinical care, research and education, the Psychiatric Neurotherapeutics Program (PNP) team is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with a broad range of psychiatric illnesses. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a highly effective conventional intervention for chronic depression, mania, catatonia and schizophrenia.

McLean Hospital is a leading specialty center for electroconvulsive therapy, having conducted ECT treatments for over 60 years. Using a collaborative team approach, we aim to maximize the effectiveness of psychotherapy, medication management and psychosocial treatments already offered at McLean with emerging techniques, technologies and interventions.

"I was someone who was deathly afraid of ECT, but you and your wonderful staff helped me to overcome my fears. The treatments clearly helped me and it is so wonderful to be able to laugh, smile and enjoy my life again."
~A McLean ECT patient

About ECT

Although ECT was introduced in the 1930s, its therapeutic use today is very different from what is portrayed as “shock treatment” in books and films. ECT is a relatively safe and effective procedure, providing relief from serious psychiatric symptoms much sooner than other therapies, such as medication and psychotherapy.

ECT is reserved for patients who have not responded to medication, who are having excessive side effects from medication or who are severely suicidal. Statistically, approximately 80 percent of patients treated with ECT respond well and get relief from their symptoms. An initial consultation with one of McLean Hospital’s ECT psychiatrists offers the opportunity to get information about ECT.

During electroconvulsive therapy, a patient is anesthetized and a small amount of electrical current is used to stimulate the brain. This produces a modified seizure, which, in turn, changes the activity of the brain. Some of these changes are similar to those seen with certain antidepressant medications in the way they relieve symptoms. The medications used for anesthesia prevent injury and patients feel no discomfort during the procedure.

Like any medical procedure, ECT does pose some risk. To minimize the risk, every patient has a medical clearance, including a physical examination, blood tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG) before beginning ECT. The physical examination is performed at McLean by a clinician from the Internal Medicine and Primary Care Clinic.

ECT has some possible side effects, such as headache, muscle pain, memory problems and rarely, nausea and vomiting. Most people who have treatments report very few side effects.

The great majority of patients will have only minor problems with memory, though some will experience no difficulties at all. While these problems usually subside, there is no way to predict their extent. The psychiatrist will discuss this potential side effect in greater detail during consultation.

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