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Medical History

Shock Therapy

A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness

by (author) Edward Shorter & David Healy

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2007
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2007
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Shock therapy is making a comeback today in the treatment of serious mental illness. Despite its reemergence as a safe and effective psychiatric tool, however, it continues to be shrouded by a longstanding negative public image, due, in large part, to how it is depicted in films, novels, and other forms of mass media. Beyond its vilification in popular culture, the stereotype of electroconvulsive therapy as a dangerous and inhumane practice is fuelled by professional posturing and public misinformation.

Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has in the last thirty years been considered a method of last resort in the treatment of debilitating depression, suicidal ideation, and other forms of mental illness. Yet, ironically, its effectiveness in treating these patients would suggest that it is a frontline therapy. In this study, Edward Shorter and David Healy trace the controversial history of ECT and other 'shock' therapies. Drawing on case studies, public debates, extensive interviews, and archival research, the authors expose the myths surrounding ECT that have been proliferated over the years.

By showing ECT's often life-saving results, Shorter and Healy endorse a point of view that is hotly contested in professional circles and in public debates. For the nearly half of all clinically depressed patients who do not respond to drugs, this book brings much-needed hope.

About the authors

Edward Shorter is the Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire, shortlisted for the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. He is also a two-time winner of the Royal Society of Canada’s Hannah Medal for writing in the history of medicine.

Edward Shorter's profile page

DAVID HEALY is Reader in Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales College of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He received his medical degree from University College Dublin and was a Clinical Research Associate at the University of Cambridge. Former Secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, Healy is author of more than 120 peer reviewed articles and more than a dozen books, including The Antidepressant Era (Harvard) and The Creation of Psychopharmacology (Harvard).

David Healy's profile page

Other titles by Edward Shorter

Other titles by David Healy