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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

What is ECT?

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), casually referred to as electric shock therapy, is a treatment for severe episodes of psychiatric disorders, especially major depression, mania, PTSD and some types of schizophrenia. It involves the use of a brief, controlled electrical current to produce a seizure within the brain. This seizure activity is thought to target neurotransmitters involved with mental illness in an effort to  bring about certain biochemical changes in the brain. It is administered in a series of treatments, between 6 to 12 treatments, given three times a week to reach a therapeutic benefit. 

What to expect on the day of treatment?

You will arrive to the surgical suite at Tempe St. Luke's Hospital and a small IV needle will be placed to be able to provide medications during the treatment. You will be given a medication to help with any pain, a short acting anesthetic to put you to sleep, and a medication to relax your muscles during treatment. While in the surgical suite, the physician and anesthesia team will monitor your vitals and the doctor will administer the ECT treatment once you are asleep. The electrical stimulus, lasting only a few seconds, is applied to trigger a small seizure within the brain. This seizure usually lasts less than a minute. Within a few minutes, you will begin breathing on your own and then you are moved to the post surgery suite for continued monitoring. Once you are awake and alert, then you are able to return home or back to the hospital if you are on the inpatient unit. 

Are there side effects to ECT?

ECT is relatively safe although it does have its risks and side effects like all treatments. Prior to receiving ECT, you will undergo a medical, psychiatric, and laboratory workup to determine if you are a candidate for this treatment. For most people, the side effects of ECT are minimal, with the most common side effects being headache, muscle soreness, nausea, mild confusion, and memory difficulties while you are receiving the initial ECT treatments. Medication is provided to address some of the nausea and pain side effects.

Will ECT affect my memory?

Short term memory and recalling new information may be affected initially as you begin ECT treatment. Once ECT treatment has stopped or the frequency of treatments is less, memory issues diminish within a few weeks. It is rare that long term memory issues could occur although memory deficits could be due to other underlying factors which would need to be evaluated if it occurs. Those who struggle with severe depression often present with memory difficulties that successfully resolve as the ECT treatment brings relief of the depressive symptoms. It is recommended not to begin any life changing events that would require your attention or memory while you initiate ECT treatment. 

Is ECT effective?

Although there are various treatments for mental illness with new advances in recent years, ECT continues to statistically be the most effective, quickest, and safest treatment for many individuals. In terms of severe clinical depression, ECT has been shown to provide a beneficial effect in approximately 70-85% of patients and is still considered the gold standard in the treatment of this form of depression. It has also been shown to help keep people in remission of their depression longer than other treatment forms once maintenance ECT treatments are carried out.


If you feel you continue to present with significant and debilitating symptoms as a result of your mental illness, talk to your psychiatric provider about the option of ECT. If you do not have a current psychiatric provider and would like to set up an evaluation to determine if you are an appropriate candidate, click on the links below to set up an appointment. 

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