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Convuls Ther. 1986;2(3):179-189.

The Experience of Electroconvulsive Therapy in the 1980s: A Prospective Study of the Knowledge, Opinions, and Experience of California Electroconvulsive Therapy Patients in the Berkeley Years.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, Los Angeles, California, USA.


In 1982, the city of Berkeley, California voted to make the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) a crime. Though later overturned, this ordinance generated much publicity and underscored the public's general negative view of ECT. In this climate, the authors surveyed first-time ECT recipients (n = 35), and a group with prior ECT (n = 20) to examine patient knowledge, experience, and opinions of ECT in California in the 1980s. Patients in both groups believed ECT should be available and did not think it was used for punishment or control. First-time ECT patients showed good understanding of the ECT process, thought that they had adequate information with which to decide about ECT, and were optimistic about the outcome. In comparison, those with prior ECT were less knowledgeable, less sure about the ECT process, less optimistic about the outcome, and more frightened of the procedure. After treatment, first-time ECT patients believed they had made a good decision to have ECT and that they were helped. Complaints of memory dysfunction were common. Patients who received ECT in the past may have had a more negative experience with ECT than those undergoing the procedure in the 1980s. These more negative experiences may have determined present media presentations and, therefore, had an influence on present day public attitudes against ECT. Accurate portrayals of ECT, as it is done today, may improve public attitudes toward ECT and forestall adverse legislation.

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