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J Psychiatr Pract. 2009 Sep;15(5):346-68. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000361277.65468.ef.

Electroconvulsive therapy: Part I. A perspective on the evolution and current practice of ECT.

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Silver School of Social Work, New York University (NYU), USA.


The concept of inducing convulsions, mainly through chemical means, to promote mental wellness has existed since the 16th century. In 1938, Italian scientists first applied electrically induced therapeutic seizures. Although electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is employed in the treatment of several psychiatric disorders, it is most frequently used today to treat severe depressive episodes and remains the most effective treatment available for those disorders. Despite this, ECT continues to be the most stigmatized treatment available in psychiatry, resulting in restrictions on and reduced accessibility to a helpful and potentially life-saving treatment. The psychiatric and psychosocial ramifications of this stigmatization may include the exacerbation of the increasingly serious, global health problem of major depressive disorders as well as serious consequences for individual patients who may not be offered, or may refuse, a potentially beneficial treatment. The goal of this first article in this two-part series is to provide an overview of ECT's historical development and discuss the current state of knowledge about ECT, including technical aspects of delivery, patient selection, its side-effect profile, and factors that may contribute to underuse of ECT.

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