Shame and Electroconvulsive Therapy (Shock Therapy)

February 10, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Due to my frequent flirtations with treatment-resistance over the years, I have discussed ECT with a variety of doctors. To the first doctor, and the one after, I said simply, “I would rather die than do that”. Well, as it turns out when faced with death, you’ll do a lot of things you didn’t think you would.

ECT Misconceptions

People are amazed shock therapy is still around. Well it is. And it’s still around for one fundamental reason: it gets people out of depression better than anything else.

Electroconvulsive therapy is barbaric. No, that’s not a misconception, that’s just how I feel about it. But it’s not as barbaric as you probably think it is.

  • ECT is done under anesthesia, the patient feels nothing
  • ECT is not used as a punishment
  • ECT is almost always, always, always done with patient consent
  • ECT is taken very seriously and is not a frontline treatment
  • Very few doctors practice ECT due to the small number of people who get it
  • ECT is a medical procedure and during treatment there is the doctor, an anesthesiologist and nurses all over the place

And in point of fact, during ECT I felt more cared for as a patient then during any other treatment before or since.

mp9003414091Immense Shame and ECT

I didn’t want to tell anyone I was getting ECT, that I was having it, or that I had it. In my brain ECT was absolutely the worst thing you could do to a person and even considering it made me feel a seriously bad, bad kind of crazy. What kind of horror show let’s someone electrocute them? How messed up am I that I would seek seizures?

I felt immense guilt and shame over it. I felt like anyone who found out would never see me the same way again.

(And, of course, it didn’t help that a friend abandoned me likely due to the stress of seeing me through part of the treatment.)

ECT is Barbaric

I said before that ECT is barbaric and I meant it. Medical professionals do everything in their power to make the experience as untraumatic as possible, but in the end, someone is still pouring volts of electricity into your brain.

But to be fair, many medical treatments are barbaric. Severe cases of epilepsy are treated with brain surgery that purposefully removes or segments parts of the brain. Chemotherapy is purposefully dumping poisons into your body that may kill you.

Medicine isn’t nice. Medicine isn’t pretty. Medicine is full of hard choices that people make when their back is up against the wall. I know most people reading this right now think they would never undergo ECT, but until you have been in extreme amounts of pain, you have no idea what you would do. Trust me.


There are many groups out there looking to ban ECT. They have their reasons, I won’t get into them, but in my opinion all these people do is further add stigma and shame to people who are choosing this treatment during the worst moments of their lives.

Shame and ECT

In the end, I had 9 ECT treatments and then stopped due to lack of response and appearance of deleterious cognitive effects. I was not part of the 60% - 70% that very favorably respond. Really, very crushing.

But all that shame over a medical treatment is misguided. That shame is an indication of how the rest of the world sees the treatment and not what it actually is. What it actually is, is a treatment you and your doctor feel is right for you. Which makes ECT like any other treatment.

There are certainly many negatives to consider prior to treatment, but there are also positives. The treatment might be right for you, it might not. But letting the stigma, the outdated views, the shame and other people’s judgment determine how you feel about the treatment is wrong. It’s about you getting better; it’s not about them.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, February 10). Shame and Electroconvulsive Therapy (Shock Therapy), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

July, 15 2018 at 8:04 pm

In 1993 they shocked me and it saved me I'm still here. I feel shame.I feel the shame for getting into a drug induced psychotic episode where i nearly tried to kill myself. And I hate myself for the brain damage but I'm alive and the shock therapy really turned my pychosis around. It could be that it was physical punishment, it could be a spiritual wake up. I never talk about this treatment and I feel shame from time to time. I hope they never ban it because it can save somebody's life who is in pain and may want to end it. Thanks for having a place where I could share this.

April, 12 2018 at 9:58 am

ECT did not keep me from a near-fatal suicide attempt. In fact, the whole nightmare added to my suicidal ideation. I am grateful that I nearly succeeded because it afforded me a priceless trip to heaven that changed my life. However, the ECT was barbaric and rendered me a "complaint" patient in the sense I was like a child. I was lost, could not remember things that just happened and could not find my way home for several months. After 7 treatments, I overdosed and truly had no sense of understanding what was really happening to me. The headaches after treatment are proof enough that your brain has been injured. The child-like, obliviousness is taken for success and really it is anything but success. This is a money-making treatment that is a traumatic brain injury. We give patients anti-seizure medicine to keep them from having seizures. Why? They cause brain damage. Everyone in the medical community acknowledges this fact. So it doesn't cause brain damage to run a LARGE current (larger than in former days of ECT to overcome the anesthesia) and you truly want to publish this bosh that it doesn't cause problems? It is safer? This is really negligent. I am no victim and I am grateful beyond belief what I learned from this. With that said, I could not do this to any human being and it should not be done to any one.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 14 2023 at 4:44 pm

I really appreciate this comment and the information in it. The author even said that the treatment didn't help her.
I have terminal cancer, and I absolutely regret the extreme treatments they gave me to try to save my life. Those treatments destroyed my body and allowed the cancer to spread faster. The medical community needs to try to do the least harm for the most good, not try to cure everything.
Thanks again, for this perspective and information.

lMinister Lunatic
July, 15 2017 at 1:01 pm

I remember not so long ago when doctors recommended smoking, the same now want to bring back ECT.

April, 14 2015 at 2:49 pm

I wish my Dr. was as discerning in the medications they piled on me over the years. Try this , try that. Oh diabetes ummmm ,oh seizures ummm you must have taken it wrong.Teeth are rotting .... well that happens. I could go on and on and on. Not enough testing is done to MAKE SURE you can tolerate a medication or procedure. We are like guinea pigs and the outcome just doesn't matter. It is so hard to wrap your already abused mind around being treated so shabbily. So how do we keep picking ourselves up and keep demanding to be looked at as a human being. Its because WE have had to dig deep into our suffering in a way that hope will someday save this planet and all who live on it. My point is respect. If I choose ECT that I have all the facts, all the tests , all options, the time to decide everything so that if something goes wrong it is a choice only I can question. This has not been my experience with having anxiety and depression. I have had good care but the horrors will haunt me. All my physical ailments are from the medications.

Dottie L.
April, 14 2015 at 2:17 pm

I have read each and every post and must add my personal ECT experience. I was desperately depressed. "Rescued" from an attempted suicide. The doctors tried many medication combinations with no positive results. My psychiatrist of 13 years recommended ECT. I was reluctant having had it previously with no success. This time was different. They tried unilateral with no positive results. Then switched to bilateral and improvement began. I had ECT treatments from August until January. I suffer from some memory loss both short term during the time of the procedures and some long-term. I must say I have not been hospitalized in six years and am more stable than I've ever been. I know there is a great deal of controversy regarding this procedure, but for me it was a life saver.

Lori Cepela
April, 13 2015 at 11:32 am

The negligent & lacking important information said there would be no more mania and it felt good. Will I have more, that's all I live for now. If offered ect by a doctor more informative and not pushy I may have considered, but honestly No!

Mike H.
June, 6 2011 at 7:50 am

~N - My experience with ECT was the same as yours. After twelve treatments I had no positive results but some hellashious headaches, body ache and short-term memory loss. So ECT is off my list of treatment options. On-the-other-hand, I have talked to other folks who claim to have had all positive results and few if any negative. The stigma however can not be denied. Every "civilian" I've ever told about my ECT treatment has taken at least one step backwards and given me the; "Oh my God! Lock-up the knives Martha" look.
This is one area where I do feel that celebrity endorsements can help. I've heard Dick Cavette speak very candidly many times about about his on-going use of ECT and the positive effects for him. I just heard an interview this weekend with Carrie Fisher who explained the process (said put the "Cuckoo's Nest" image out of your head") and said that she is taken less medication as a result.
So, as you have made clear, If it works for you, great. if it doesn't work for you, don't do it again. If you are thinking about doing it - do your homework and give it careful consideration. And under no circumstances let anybody do it to you without your consent.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 12 2018 at 10:01 am

Of course there is "euphoria" and a positive result for some, they have a head injury that causes that effect. I had same horrible headaches and permanent memory loss from the procedures. I regret it every day.

Natasha Tracy
June, 6 2011 at 6:28 am

Hello Michelle,
Accusing me of having brain damage and that brain damage de facto dictating my thoughts? How droll.
This is a clever way of writing off anyone who has had the treatment. I don't find that acceptable. Each opinion has merit, particularly those of the 100,000 people who had the treatment last year.
There is a misconception that doctors make a lot of money from this treatment. Please let me know of a reliable source that shows it is inordinately profitable. This treatment is actually _expensive_ for doctors to perform and here in Canada, the profit argument is moot anyway.
The history of the treatment is barbaric. Certainly. However we also used to perform surgery without anesthesia. History is full of barbarism.
You are welcome to to dislike ECT but the suggestion that doctors are cruel and money grubbing for offering it and patients are brain dead for allowing it is falderal.
I have written significantly on this topic. If you wish to see my views, many of which have citations, please see the following links. These links take you to my personal blog which is in no way affiliated with HealthyPlace:
Basic discussion of ECT:
A personal experience with ECT (not mine):
Discussion of ECT controversy with supporting citations
- Natasha

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 12 2018 at 10:04 am

You are doing the same thing you accuse this poster of doing in "drollness." Just because you had post brain damage euphoria that you determine is "improvement" does not make it so. What you think is not law. It is brain damage, period. Seizures cause brain damage. That is why they try so hard to keep epileptics from seizing. Your totalitarian view of benefits are scary and there are many links supporting you because there is money in this business of frying your brain and keeping you brain damaged, compliant and stalinistique to your captors.

June, 5 2011 at 11:39 pm

I think it's great if this "barbaric treatment" has helped you, but I can't help but wonder if that is your true brain speaking or the brain of someone with ECT induced brain damage. ECT is only an effective BEHAVIORAL treatment in that it forces people to behave the way that society determines it should. Success is determined by the administrators (by the way, you are obviously unaware of the extreme profits the doctors themselves are making with each "treatment") and others who are not the victims themselves. Perhaps you should lay off the ECT for a while and study ECT's history. You may want to begin with the Neurological stance on ECT; then to it's history. ECT was first administered on humans in Nazi concentration camps after Hitler's "torture" doctor visited a slaughterhouse. He was impressed by how much easier it was to slaughter the pigs after they received electric shocks. One year later, America implemented ECT "treatment" to our mentally ill; not to slaughter them of course, only to enforce socially acceptable behavior.
There are four groups of people who allow the continuation of this torture: 1)Those who are being highly rewarded (monetarily) for each "treatment." 2) Those who have suffered enough brain damage to alter their understanding that they do in fact have brain damage. 3) Victims who are too terrified and ashamed to speak out against it. 4) People who have no idea how cruel and damaging ECT is.
Ernest Hemingway is a perfect example of an ECT victim. After suffering depression he was administered two ECT sessions. He returned home, stuck a gun in his mouth, and shot himself. Those who say his suicide was only because he did not receive enough sessions to "recover" are mistaken. He received few enough treatments to recognize the damage it had caused his brain before frying it completely.

February, 28 2011 at 1:48 pm

Natasha does not make out ECT to be warm and fuzzy at all. And actually it sounds like her doctors did care enough to tell her it wasn't working out--the dynamics seem to be different when you're making a conscious choice rather than undergoing forced treatment.

Tim Harris
February, 27 2011 at 9:24 pm

The system provides for the system and they will deliberately harm people to do it. Elisabeth seems to do much better outside the hospital. So what did they do? Put her back in. They feel if they stick together the money will flow for everyone and it has been. They only answer to themselves and a patient is in greater danger of harm than a military prisoner. The ECT will make it hard for her to defend herself or testify against any abuse charges. How covenant.
I sounds like Natasha may have turned her ECT into her warm and fuzzy. Not finding it with friends and family which is very common. But to make your ECT your warm and fuzzy is not a good thing. Her doctors should be smart enough and care enough about her to tell her that. Instead she's just part of a retirement plan, money in the bank. I care enough to say it's not a good thing.

February, 27 2011 at 9:01 am

Have you ever written a piece about psychiatric advance directives? Based on the documents you posted it seems like they're useless--if they're just going to wave them away as "product of mental illness rather than her own unfettered free will", it kind of gives the implication that judges just rubber stamp doctor's orders regardless and she won't be considered "cured" until she shows gratitude and cooperation with doctors since she's certainly not in a catatonic or suicidal state now. And this is for someone that actually has a supportive husband and home to go back to...

Tim Harris
February, 23 2011 at 3:38 pm

Hello Natasha, The below was at the top of the web site. Written from her home just days before she was taken away Iran style. Why didn't you post it? Does the below sound like someone that might kill themselves? Or someone with the wits to see the big picture and take care of them self in addition to not needing ECT. Trust what the patent says. Doctors are ignorant, ill and corrupt.
The suicide rate is higher for those who chose to go to hospitals than those that do not. You can't see past your nose just like the profession. There is really something very wrong with you to side against her and proof how limiting ECT is.
An email from Elizabeth K. Ellis:
16 February 2011
Elizabeth K. Ellis: Electroshock Survivor To MindFreedom International Director, David W. Oaks:
As I informed you this afternoon, I am in danger of receiving more electroshock treatments from ANOKA (Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center - AMRTC) or any other state-operated facility in Minnesota.
I received through the mail a Notice of Intent to Revoke Provisional Discharge signed on 14 February 2011 by Kirstin Wegenast, LSW for Clay County, Minnesota, and an Order to Transport dated February 15th signed by the Judge.
I called Kirstin on the 14th. She was indifferent to my pleas.
My public defender, Peter Karlson, said the Sheriff could pick me up at any moment and transport me.
I visited with Peter this forenoon and after much consideration, he agreed to challenge the court on these decisions for hospitalization and continuing ECT. But he wanted a good backup plan.
We put together an affidavit which he will file tomorrow in which I agreed to medication, counseling, psychiatric visits and monitoring by the county.
I will be seeing psychiatrist Dr. Nels Langsten in St. Paul this weekend and I have a good counselor of my faith lined up.
I put in a call today to Janna Peterson but didn't get her. When she visited me earlier this month, she seemed very interested in my situation.
My daughter is for my continuing treatments.
My husband supports me.
As far as I am concerned, I am in good mental health -- active, talking, eating, sleeping. I see no reason for continuing ECT. The county says they are just trying to save my life.
I question whether it's not their face they are trying to save.
In appreciation for all you do.

Natasha Tracy
February, 23 2011 at 7:56 am

Hi Tim,
Obviously I cannot comment on any individual case as I am neither her doctor or lawyer.
Given that, I will note from the court papers on your site:
Heard in court Nov. 19, 2010.
Ellis has schizoaffective disorder.
Throughout her hospitalization, she exhibited the following:
- catatonia, barely communicating with staff
- refused medication, food, liquids
- required hospitalization for dehydration
- further lack of food intake will result in deterioration of muscle
- Drs felt that death will occur in the next couple of months
ECT has been beneficial for Ellis in the past, treatment without ECT has not resulted in "significant improvement" in "condition and/or behavior"
Not given ECT, prognosis for returning to community is poor.
Ellis has a health directive indicating:
- refusal of ECT
- refusal of artificial feeding and hydration
- authorization of CPR, respirator, dialysis, and blood transfusions
The inconsistencies in the directive was one of the indicators that Drs took into account indicating her mental illness and her inability to make informed consent to ECT.
Ellis's daughter refused to sign her mother's directive due to her mother's illness and previous positive response to ECT. The daughter did not believe her mother was exercising proper, informed judgement.
I'm not sure I would rather have a mentally ill woman kill herself than receiving ECT. But that's me.
- Natasha

Tim Harris
February, 23 2011 at 7:07 am

If you want to defend the use of ECT defend Elizabeth Ellis decision not to have it. Here is a 67 yr old woman, retired school councilor, that has had it she says it didn't help and damaged her mind. Yet as an outpatient a court ordered her to have it. She said no thanks the people demanding it is "just trying to save face". and she got taken away and will be tied down and given what is meant to be brain damage. It's not hard to think that the emotional harm of being forced will out weigh any possible benefits. It's a type of rape that she may never recover from. Just like sex and forced sex- a very big difference. This is happening now. You can help an elderly woman crying rape at this web site, she would do the same for you-

Natasha Tracy
February, 18 2011 at 7:29 am

Thank-you for making that point so eloquently. I would love for there to be better options for people, but right now there just isn't.
- Natasha

Jon B
February, 18 2011 at 3:30 am

ECT is a very effective treatment for many people.
You just can't throw it out and say that it's useless, when person after person has literally had their lives saved by this intervention.
I've seen the procedure a number of times and, if I were in a state of Catatonia and couldn't take care of myself, then I would applaud whoever did something that took me out of that bad situation.
For many, this is the ONLY thing that works. You can't throw out the baby with the bath water.

Tim Harris
February, 15 2011 at 10:42 am

Natasha, Did all or any of your M.D.s and therapist ever tell you what ingredients are needed for a happy and healthy life? Did they tell what life situations could cause depression? That can fit on a few hand out sheets. But maybe they are still waiting for someone to them that information.
Did they look into what ways your parents were dysfunctional and how that effects you? How much group therapy have you had? And it's said ECT is a last resort. Did all these things come first?
Ask your therapist to define their job. That should be easy for them to do. I'm sure you will not get a straight answer. If you do get an answer I'm sure the description will not match what you have been getting. Ask why is that?
ECT is just a money machine for the system. Most people know all these things and the fact that the profession is full of sick and stupid people. Insiders have confirmed this to me. It's not like any other field of medicine. It's in a poor class all it's own. That's why most people feel ECT is just like giving guns to a kindergarten class to play with. A very bad idea. It's also forced and persuaded on many.

Ann Schuhmacher
February, 14 2011 at 9:13 pm

I had 9 sessions of shock therapy. I felt totally comfortable and felt no pain or discomfort. Much the same as having my tonsils out.

Natasha Tracy
February, 14 2011 at 2:52 pm

Hi Lisa,
Yes, I make a comparison to oncology myself quite frequently. For some reason no one hate them.
- Natasha

February, 14 2011 at 12:16 pm

*with NO intention (oops)

February, 14 2011 at 9:59 am

We don't know everything about cancer, either, and the success rate is far from 100% there, too. But no one (I would hope) would dare call oncology a freak show with intention to help people. Why should a profession that treats illnesses of the brain be treated any differently? Sick is sick and help is help, even if it doesn't always work.

Natasha Tracy
February, 14 2011 at 8:20 am

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your comment. Without putting too fine a point on it, you've proven my point.
"Psychiatry is not a profession it is a freak show. The freaks are without the intention to be helpful."
Even for someone who dislikes ECT this isn't a reasoned or reasonable statement.
Psychiatry is like any other branch of medicine, it does the best it can, it makes mistakes and it's far from perfect. To suggest that psychiatrists don't want to help people is ridiculous, at best.
ECT is an extremely effective treatment and saves the lives of many. People don't generally like to talk about it, however, due to the stigma around the treatment.
Everyone has the right to make the treatment decision they choose, but it's attitudes like yours that keeps people from getting treatment at all.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
February, 14 2011 at 8:16 am

Hi Chrisa,
In my biased opinion, I feel ECT is a last resort. I would be extremely reluctant to use it on anyone underage. The risks are just so great and there's too much about it we don't know.
But again, that's just my biased opinion. I hope you find other things that help your son.
- Natasha

Tim Harris
February, 13 2011 at 6:13 pm

ECT should not be used. Psychiatry is not a profession it is a freak show. The freaks are without the intention to be helpful. I found nothing but absurdities. I can list 50. If it wasn't the world's biggest disgrace it would be the biggest joke because of what really happens. It was wrong about much in the past and wrong about most now. It's only by luck it did not kill me. Many others are not as lucky. Our entire culture has no respect for psychiatry. Those are a few of the reasons ECT should not be used. Also, I've never seen it work for anyone and most will say the same.

Chrisa Hickey
February, 13 2011 at 2:38 pm

I applaud you for telling your story, even though it, unfortunately, didn't help you. We were faced with the choice to try ECT on our son, at the time, 14. But I couldn't even think of it without becoming sick to my stomach. Too young. There were other meds to try still. But I have friends who have had success with ECT. It can work.

Natasha Tracy
February, 11 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi Chantelle,
Thank-you for your kind words and congratulations on finding your way. Sounds like you're trying to reach out to others now and that might help even more.
Rock on.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
February, 11 2011 at 2:27 pm

Well, I did say "almost" always. There are exceptions to every rule. I don't personally know of one, or a doctor who has done that, but yes, I'm sure they are out there.
I could write many stories of those whose lives were saved by ECT. In fact many who had no side effects. And many that would undergo it again.
But that isn't the point. The point is that this is a treatment, and like all treatments it is a risk vs. reward scenario, and there is no reason to attach a stigma to this treatment.
- Natasha

February, 11 2011 at 2:04 pm

Somehow the anti-ECT people I've met don't sound very different from you in saying that it's barbaric, had bad side effects and didn't work for them. Know a few people who had forced treatment recently so best not to stress the "always always always" done with patient consent. Assume this is a relatively small number but no point in negating their experiences just because you were able to choose yourself.

Chantelle Child
February, 10 2011 at 12:20 pm

Hi Natasha,
I've been reading your posts & feel an all too close understanding in everything. In my early 20's I was dianosed with everything but Bipolar, going untreated I suffered in confusion. But with the incredible persistance of my psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II rapid cycling. Many trials of medications later, and hospital stays nothing was working. It wasn't making it easier that I was off of work and feeling hopeless. ECT's were presented to me and I received 18 treatments. Slowly, after 7 years of this journey, I'm finding my place. My husband & I have learned so much about the illness & how to not let bipolar manage our lives. Although it does get tough at times, but so does everything. I started a facebook page, Break The Chains Of Mental Illness and a blog "I'm not crazy! I'm bipolar."...I have also wrote about my experiences with ECT. I want to use my experiences to get people to talk and break the stigma of mental illness and so far these pages have started to get the some silence to break! Your writing it truly great & look forward to reading more! ~Chantelle Child

Leave a reply