The Evolution of Electroconvulsive Therapy

The Evolution of Electroconvulsive Therapy

By Lynette Rivas

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) has been and remains as one of the most controversial, yet effective, forms of therapy. But how did this idea come along and how does it work? How has the procedure changed throughout the years?

The idea of inducing a seizure to aide a patient was first thought of in the late 1920s by a scientist named Meduna. The main purpose of ECT at the time was to treat patients with schizophrenia. After successfully treating over 100 patients through a chemically induced seizure, two other scientists with the names of Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini decided to conduct the first electrically induced seizure.

Almost a century later, ECT is still widely used throughout the world. ECT is mostly used when other treatments are found to be unsuccessful, such as therapy and medication.  It can treat severe depression, treatment-resistant depression, severe mania, catatonia, and agitation and aggression in people with dementia. Over the years, the ECT procedure has greatly changed in order to ensure the patient’s safety and to reduce side effects.

The general procedure of ECT includes:

  • General anesthesia – makes you unconscious and unaware of the procedure
  • A brief physical exam
  • An intravenous line (IV) inserted
  • Electrode pads placed on the head
  • Muscle relaxant – helps minimize the seizure and prevent injury
  • Monitoring the patient’s brain, heart, blood pressure, and oxygen
  • Mouth guard – helps to protect the teeth and tongue from injury

With all of these features in place, the patient can relax and be completely unaware of the procedure. After ECT, the patient is put into a recovery room where they will be monitored for any potential issues. It usually takes a total of 6-12 treatments for the patient to see results. Even after symptoms improve, the patient will have to continually visit their therapist in order to keep up with the progress that they have made.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and/or mania please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit



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