Dr. Oz engages shock therapy debate on show | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Dr. Oz engages shock therapy debate on show

January 26, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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An episode of "The Dr. Oz Show" aired this week that talked about the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a process in which grand mal seizures are electrically induced to treat severe depression.

The episode, which was titled "The Shock That Could Save Your Life," aired on Jan. 25. The next day, the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR) issued a statement asking the show’s producers to provide “balanced and truthful coverage” of the risks of ECT.

“ECT remains one of the most controversial psychiatric practices," said NCMHR director Lauren Spiro. "We are surprised that Dr. Oz would air such a one-sided show.”

The FDA still classifies the procedure in the high-risk Class III category, despite pressure from equipment manufacturers to reclassify it as lower-risk Class II.

According to the NCMHR, individuals who undergo ECT (as well as a number of mental health experts) claim it has “disabling effects” that can include permanent memory loss and cognitive deficits. As these effects “outweigh possible benefits,” the coalition advocates that potential recipients be properly informed of the risks before making a choice.

"We recommend more media coverage of innovative, non-invasive, cost-effective mental health interventions, including 'peer-run services' delivered by people who have recovered from severe mental health issues," Spiro said.

Several viewers who say they have received ECT have posted comments on the show's website to protest how the therapy was depicted. Both sides appear to have strong opinions on the matter, but where does the truth lie? Maybe somewhere in between?



Despite the Hollywood depictions, ECT has been very helpful for many patients, including Kitty Dukakis. But I agree: Try peer-run services first.

I just wanted to state the obvious whenever there is a reply saying 80% cure rate, it's a lie. Whenever someone says ECT doesn't cause permanent memory or cognitive deficits, it's a 100% LIE.

ECT is current around 1 amp or higher, to get past the "modifications" there needs to be a higher current which causes the damage, the grand mal seizure is also pretty damaging, but frying one's brain is really what it's about, there are no contraindications, and it's given to everyone, literally, even "developmentally disabled," and dementia patients, and children and teens.

So ECT is barbarism, and it was also used as a torture device, I think in WWII, but I would have to fact check that last part.

What I do know is it routinely erases year of memory, and I studied it for over a year with top doctors researchers who aren't tied in with ECT lobby.

Anyone who knows anything about ECT understands that there are risks, but compared to death and disability, the risks are often very acceptable. Dr. Oz is right to combat the stigma that surrounds ECT, because it is not scientifically based. Some of it is generated by organizations backed by Scientology - heaven forbid we shock the Thetans. Some of the stigma is related to the still pervasive belief that mental illnesses are just character weaknesses, that can be overcome with just a little help from a peer buddy. Do we say don't ever use chemo because of the risk of chemo brain? Suicide kills just like cancer. When used for the right people for the right reasons, it can be a life saver. The same can be said for any medical procedure.

mY DAD GOT an overdose on the operating table then showed drug-induced schizophrenia, which does not require ECT but waiting for the drug to clear. He was given repeated ECT treatments and lost some short- and long-term memory. That made him reluctant to enter into relationship w/ family members, w/ problems similar to a head injury. Then, I was born premature, which left cognitive, tactile and physical disabilities. Now we had 2 members w/ head-injury like symptoms. You must warn there needs to be severe over-sight and limited use.

Nick Zubko

Associate Editor

Nick Zubko



Nick Zubko is associate editor of Behavioral Healthcare.

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