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Electroconvulsive Treatment-More Than Electricity?: An Odyssey of Facilities

Berg, John E. MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/YCT.0b013e3181a2f23e
Original Study

Objective: To investigate whether the practice of electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) today is done in a comparable way in different hospitals on several continents.

Materials and Methods: During visits to the ECT facilities of 14 hospitals on 3 continents, comparisons were made, and responsible health professionals were interviewed using a semistructured guide. It is emphasized that the present article is not the result of a well-structured research, but of reflections after observing a lack of homogeneity among facilities.

Results: A total of more than 18,000 modified ECT sessions were given per year in the 14 hospitals. The opinion of the public and regulatory bodies on ECT strongly influences the possibility of giving ECT to patients. Indications for ECT are wider than the cases of depression in most facilities visited. A psychiatrist gives ECT in all but 1 facility. Anesthesia is given by an anesthesiologist in all but 1 facility. A mouthpiece was not used in 2 (or 3) facilities, although the rationale was the same as in facilities using mouthpieces. No facility gave unmodified ECT. Holding on to the patient during seizures was judged unnecessary in 12 of 14 facilities.

Conclusions: In severe mental illness, the practice of using ECT seems to have its merit also in cases with debilitating illnesses other than unipolar and bipolar depression. Giving ECT may be done by qualified or specially certified nurses, but the giving of anesthesia should be the realm of the anesthesiologist. Mouthpieces are judged by some facilities to be a superfluous device. The holding of patients during seizure can be omitted. Some of the facilities visited give ECT to a huge number of patients each year. They differ in the practice of ECT and could be the focus of comparative research. Despite the differences observed, and procedures that could be altered, giving ECT in a modified way effectively relieves suffering in the patients.

From the Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital, Oslo, Norway.

Received for publication January 15, 2009; accepted February 9, 2009.

Reprints: John E. Berg, MD, PhD, Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital, 0440 Oslo, Norway (e-mail:;

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.