There’s a review in today’s Times Literary Supplement of a new book about ECT (or electroconvulsive therapy) as a treatment for mental illnesses such as psychosis or depression.
It traces the history of the therapy from the experiments of Ugo Cerletti in Rome in the 1930s, through the widespread use of it in the 40s and 50s, to its discrediting in the 60s (think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and its cautious reintroduction in the 90s as an alternative to drug-based therapies.
All very interesting, but what I wonder about is that starting date. Electric treatment was used for shell-shock cases in several countries during the Great War – remember Dr. L.R. Yealland, the man Pat Barker loves to hate.
I hold no brief for Yealland’s methods – often they seem to amount to torturing men into submission – but his electic shock treatment seems sometimes at least to have been successful in removing symptoms such as tremors. Is there really no link between wartime shock therapy and the later applications? The TLS reviewer, who writes as though he’s very authoritative, implies not…
When I look at magazines of the twenties, I often flick through the adverts, and have noticed a lot for electical health ppliances of one sort or another – often promising to get rid of neurasthenia or nervous complaints. I don’t know whether these gave a shock (and if so, was it a jolt or a tingle?) or whether they just sent a current round a belt in the hope of doing something magnetic. I think there were other medical or pseudo-medical use of electricity too, before Signor Cerletti got going in the thirties. I wonder if anyone has researched them.