A Case of Hysteria

Shock The Pain Away

As electricity took hold throughout the industrialized world in the late 1800s, American doctor Weir Mitchell used it to treat female patients presenting symptoms of nervous exhaustion and depression (i.e., hysteria). He attached to his hands electrodes that were connected to a battery and then vigorously kneaded his patients’ bodies. In the 1930s–1940s, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) became a remedy widely used in mental hospitals worldwide. The procedure, done under general anesthesia, causes neurological changes—allegedly for the better. Although ECT was initially deemed a successful method of treatment despite the routine memory loss suffered by patients, those seeking to maintain order in psychiatric wards abused the procedure. Even worse, ECT was used until 1973 as a behavior modification tool to “correct” homosexual behavior. ECT is still used today, albeit in rare cases, and with muscle relaxants to avoid seizures and anesthesia to prevent pain from the electric current. Some ECT devices that provide milder forms of shock therapy were sold for use at home, such as those designed by Farrall Instruments.

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