Objective: Evidence suggests that the actual experience of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has a positive impact on perceptions regarding the treatment among patients and their relatives. This assumption was tested by comparing relatives of patients treated with ECT with those of patients treated by other means.
Design: Knowledge about and attitudes toward ECT were assessed using specifically designed questionnaires among 206 relatives of patients who were undergoing psychiatric treatment but had never received ECT (non-ECT group). The results were compared with those obtained among 77 relatives of patients who had undergone the treatment (ECT-treated group).
Results: The relatives of the ECT-treated group were more likely to have acquired their information about ECT from physicians, whereas relatives of the non-ECT group usually relied on the media for this purpose. The relatives who obtained their information from physicians were more aware and more positive about ECT than those who obtained their information from the media. Knowledge about ECT was greater among relatives of the ECT-treated group than those of the non-ECT group. The relatives of the ECT recipients had significantly more positive attitudes toward the treatment, whereas the relatives of the non-ECT group were more often either ambivalent about ECT or critical of the treatment.
Conclusions: Although the groups differed on certain clinical and demographic variables, these differences were unlikely to have influenced the results significantly. Thus, it was possible to conclude that sharing the experience of ECT with the patient had a significant and positive impact on the relative's knowledge and attitudes concerning the treatment.