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Int Rev Psychiatry. 2009 Jun;21(3):200-6. doi: 10.1080/09540260902747888.

Hollywood and ECT.

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Westminster Adult Services, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, UK.


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has featured in Hollywood films for sixty years. Film depictions continue to exert a powerful and predominantly negative effect on public attitudes towards the treatment. From review of the 22 currently available films that directly refer to ECT the main themes identified are described. While initially portrayed as a dramatic but effective psychiatric intervention, ECT on film has come to stand for something quite different, representing the brutal and generally futile attempts of society to control and suppress the individual, gathering along the way a hackneyed cinematic grammar that emphasizes its inhumane and punitive nature. The film representation now has little in common with ECT as currently practised, such that filmmakers portraying ECT appear influenced more by films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest than by evidence of the safety and effectiveness of ECT as a psychiatric treatment. Filmgoers with no personal or professional exposure to the treatment may fail to make the distinction between the demands of film narrative and clinical reality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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