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Electroshock: On How and Why It Lingers on Long After Insulin Coma Shock and Lobotomy Are Gone

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Mid-20th century psychiatry routinely touted and performed a trio of barbarisms on unwitting or unwilling citizens; insulin coma shock, ice pick lobotomy, and electroshock were treatments of choice. In the second half of that century, 2 of the 3 were stopped. Insulin coma shock ended because it became too difficult for even the glamour and mystification of psychiatric propaganda to cover up the fact that this horrific treatment was literally killing too many people. Not long after—despite a Nobel Prize to its founder, Egas Moniz, and a period of fame and notoriety to its main United States practitioner, James Freeman—the severing of people's frontal lobes by an ice pick through their eye sockets was stopped. The leadership of psychiatrist Peter Breggin was key in forcing a halt to lobotomy. So 2 of this terrible 3 have joined a long history of psychiatric atrocities no longer practiced, yet electroshock somehow endures. The lobotomists have been disgraced, but the shock doctors, including people like Max Fink who infamously declared in 1996 that "ECT is one of God's gifts to mankind" (as cited in Boodman, 1996), carry on. What are the facts about electroshock, also known as electroconvulsive treatment, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)? How and why is it still used today? In this essay, I will explore these questions and provide some answers.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2016-04-01

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