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Brain Stimul. 2016 Nov - Dec;9(6):882-891. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.07.005. Epub 2016 Jul 20.

Based on a True Story? The Portrayal of ECT in International Movies and Television Programs.

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KU Leuven - University of Leuven, University Psychiatric Center KU Leuven, Academic Center for ECT and Neuromodulation (AcCENT), Leuvensesteenweg 517, 3070 Kortenberg, Belgium. Electronic address:



Movies and television (TV) programs are an important source of public information about ECT.


To narratively review the portrayal of ECT in international movies and TV programs from 1948 until present.


Several Internet movie databases and a database of phrases appearing in movies and TV programs were searched, supplemented with a Medline-search. No language restrictions were applied.


ECT was portrayed in 52 movies (57 scenes), 21 TV programs (23 scenes), and 2 animated sitcoms (2 scenes). In movies, the main indication for ECT is behavioral control or torture (17/57, 29.8%), whereas in TV programs, the most frequent indication is erasing memories (7/25, 28%). In most scenes (47/82; 57.3%) ECT is given without consent, and without anesthesia (59/82; 72%). Unmodified ECT is depicted more frequently in American scenes (48/64, 75%), as opposed to scenes from other countries (11/18; 64.7%). Bilateral electrode placement is used in almost all (89%, 73/82) scenes. The vast majority of movies (46/57, 80.7%) and TV programs (18/25, 72%) show a negative and inaccurate image of the treatment.


In the majority of scenes, ECT is used as a metaphor for repression, mind and behavior control, and is shown as a memory-erasing, painful and damaging treatment, adding to the stigma already associated with ECT. Only a few exceptions paint a truthful picture of this indispensable treatment in modern psychiatry.


Electroconvulsive therapy; Media; Movie; Stigma

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