A shock by any other name

In the early days of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) doctors were not coy about using the term “electric shock”.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • “The duration of the shock is variable, lasting about 0.35 sec” (from an article entitled “Cardiovascular changes following electroconvulsive therapy” published in the British Heart Journal in 1948)
  • “When no fit is obtained by the first shock…” (from an article entitled “Clinical applications of electrically induced convulsions” by WH Shepley published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1940)
  • “The shock is therefore of such a size that if passed through any part of the body other than the head it would be considered highly unpleasant” (from an article by RE Hemphill and W Grey Walter published in the Journal of Mental Science in 1941)

 Nowadays however people avoid the use of the word shock and can be quite creative in their use of alternatives. Here are a few of them:

  •  Electric current.  This is very common. It is sometimes qualified by the word “small”, even though it is powerful enough to knock you out and cause a seizure. For example the National Institute of Mental Health in the US tells people that: “Through the electrodes, an electric current passes through the brain, causing a seizure that lasts generally less than one minute”. And in the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ leaflet says: “ECT consists of passing an electrical current through the brain to produce an epileptic fit – hence the name, electro-convulsive”. Northside clinic in Sydney, Australia, tells patients:  “Whilst you are asleep and relaxed a small electric current will be passed (for about three seconds) between two treatment electrodes placed on your scalp.”
  •  Electrical charge. “They administered ECT therapy – a pulse of electrical charge sufficient to induce an electrical storm (a seizure) in the brain”, said an article (Electroshock: First glimpse of how it works adds clues to depression) in the LA Times, 19 March 2012. 
  • Stimulus. “ECT stimulus duration and its efficacy” was the title of an article by Conrad Swatz and Gunnar Larson in the September 1989 edition of Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. And Mental Health America tells us that “Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which a brief application of electric stimulus is used to produce a generalized seizure”. 

Recently I have noticed a new one: electronic current. Winchester Hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center, and numerous other hospitals in the US are telling people that “Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sends an electronic current through the brain. This current causes brief seizureactivity. This causes changes in brain chemistry”. The original is written by Rebecca J Stahl and published by EBSCO. This has me flummoxed. What is the difference between an electronic current and an electric one. Judging by a thread at http://www.crazyengineers.com it is not easy to define the difference, though the consensus of opinion seems to be that electronic involves much smaller voltages and amperage than used in ECT to give someone a shock.

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2 Responses to A shock by any other name

  1. Jane says:

    lumping electroshock together with magnetic treatment and calling them neurostimulation is a new language change happening as well.

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