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Some History of ECT

Electrical waves generated by the brain, were first demonstrated by an English physician (?surgeon) by the name of Richard Caton (1842-1926) who had shown voltage fluctuations from the brain of dogs
A German psychiatrist by the name of Hans Berger (click for bio) (German Psychiatrist 1873 - 1941) demonstrated the same effect in humans. His name was given to the 10Hz wave seen over posterior parts of the brain when the subject is awake, but has their eyes closed. The 'Berger' or later, 'alpha' wave.
"Berger, in 1935, . seemed to me to be a modest and dignified person, full of good humour, and as unperturbed by lack of recognition as he was later by the fame it eventually brought upon him. But he had one fatal weakness: ... He knew nothing about mechanics or electricity." - attributed to The Living Brain, Walter Grey Walter.
For more insight into Berger and subsequent developments look at this interview with David Peskovitz (who has published in a number of general interest science and news media).
Ladislas Von Meduna (click for bio), in Hungary, postulated that there was an antagonism between EPILEPSY (a disorder of the brain where normal brain activity is briefly replaced by rhythmical synchronus discharges and loss of conciousness) and SCHIZOPHRENIA (a condition characterised by false beliefs and false bizarre perceptions -delusions and hallucinations).

Fits were at first generated in patients by injecting camphor and then pentylentetrazol (1934)




For more detail look at Fink M (1985), Historical Article: Autobiography of L.J. Meduna. Convulsive Ther 1(1):43-57
Electroconvulsive Therapy was however initiated in 1938 by Ugo Cerletti (1877-1963) and his assistant Bini. see Cerletti U (1950), Old and new information about electroshock. Am J Psychiatry 107:87-94.
This link offers an interesting historical perspective on ECT and Insulin Coma Therapy (ICT) as well as including mention of Dr Nash - a brilliant mathematician whose schizophrenia was the subject of the book and film 'A beautiful mind' and who received ICT (he did not receive ECT).
The media has always been the principal source on the 'man in the street's perspective on ECT. Probably the most damaging fiction to this end was the wonderful story, and better film called 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. (Click for short summary)



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