Electroshock and Psychiatry’s Compulsion to Harm Children

Our investigation has found that thousands of adolescents, children, and adults have been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment they didn’t need; that hospitals hire bounty hunters to kidnap patients with mental health insurance; that patients are kept against their will until their insurance benefits run out; that psychiatrists are being pressured by the hospitals to increase profit; that hospitals `infiltrate’ schools by paying kickbacks to school counselors who deliver students; that bonuses are paid to hospital employees, including psychiatrists, for keeping the hospital beds filled; and that military dependents are being targeted for their generous mental health benefits. I could go on, but you get the picture.
— U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado

In 1947, psychiatrist Lauretta Bender, wrote about how she was now giving electroshock to children. She described the results in this way:

It is the opinion of all observers in the hospital, in the school rooms, of the parents and other guardians that the children were always somewhat improved by the [electric shock] treatment inasmuch as they were less disturbed, less excitable, less withdrawn, and less anxious. They were better controlled, seemed better integrated and more mature and were better able to meet social situations in a realistic fashion. They were more composed, happier, and were better able to accept teaching or psychotherapy in groups or individually. (2)

In 1955, she reported on how she had administered 20 shock treatments to a child under three years old, who was on the children’s ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital.(3)  Bender eventually administered this “treatment” to more than 500 children, and enjoyed a career as one of the most honored psychiatrists of her time.

One of the children she shocked was Ted Chabasinski, when he was a six-year-old foster child. His description of that experience stands in stark contrast to Bender’s:

I was six years old [in 1944]. My mother had been locked up in a mental hospital just before I was born, and I was a ward of the state. A psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, Dr. Lauretta Bender, had just begun her infamous series of experiments with shock treatment on children, and she needed more subjects. So I was diagnosed as a “childhood schizophrenic,” torn away from my foster parents, and given 20 shock treatments….18 I was dragged down the hallway crying, a handkerchief stuffed in my mouth so I wouldn’t bite off my tongue. And I woke [after the shock treatment] not knowing where I was or who I was, but feeling as if I had undergone the experience of death. After four months of this. I was returned to my foster home. Shock treatment had changed me from a shy little boy who liked to sit in a corner and read to a terrified child who would only cling to his foster mother and cry. I couldn’t remember my teachers. I couldn’t remember the little boy I was told had been my best friend. I couldn’t even find my way around my own neighborhood. The social worker who visited every month told my foster parents that my memory loss was a symptom of my mental illness. A few months later, I was shipped to a state hospital to spend the next 10 years of my life.

Was this [referring to the electroshock] the work of some isolated sadist, some mad scientist practicing in a closet? No, the psychiatrist who did this to me and several hundred other children is still a leader in her field, with many articles published in prestigious psychiatric journals; she still draws a salary from the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene. And not one voice was ever raised within the entire psychiatric profession to protest what she had done. (4)

Even while Bender was publishing articles touting her success, a follow-up study of 32 children she had electroshocked was telling of the harm she had caused. Those doctors wrote:

[P]arents have told the writers that their children were definitely worse after EST [electroshock treatment]. In fact, many of these (electroshocked) children were regarded as so dangerous to themselves or others that hospitalization become imperative. Also, after a course of such treatment one 9-year-old boy made what was interpreted as an attempt at suicide.” (5)

When the 9-year-old boy was admitted to a state hospital, he said he had tried to hang himself because he was “afraid of dying and wanted to get it over with fast.”  “Afraid of more terrifying shocks” is probably a more accurate description of the boy’s fear.

The Science

Electroshock is referred to by psychiatrists as electroconvulsive treatment or ECT because it involves the production of a grand mal convulsion, similar to an epileptic seizure, by passing up to 600 volts of electric current through the brain for one-half to four seconds. Before application, subjects are typically given anesthetics and drugs to paralyze the muscles, to suppress fear and pain, and to cut down on the number of broken bones — particularly in the spine, a common occurrence before drugs were used.

The ECT-induced convulsion usually lasts from 30 to 60 seconds and may produce life-threatening complications, such as apnea and cardiac arrest. The convulsion is followed by several minutes of unconsciousness. Electroshock is usually administered in hospitals equipped to handle emergency situations, including death, that may develop during or soon after the shock.

Brain Damage

Medical doctors, as well as the building trades, do their best to prevent people from being injured by electrical shocks. People are given anticonvulsant drugs to prevent seizures because they are known to damage the brain.

The brain naturally operates in millivolts of electricity. ECT, however, jolts the brain with an average of 150 to 400 volts of electricity. ECT induces a grand mal seizure and it is obvious that ECT causes brain damage.

University of Pennsylvania neuroscience professor Peter Sterling put it this way in testimony at a 2001 hearing on ECT before the New York Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Developmental Disabilities:

ECS [ECT] unquestionably damages the brain. The damage is due to a variety of known mechanisms:

1) ECS is designed to evoke a grand mal epileptic seizure involving massive excitation of cortical neurons that also deliver excitation to lower brain structures. The seizure causes an acute rise in blood pressure well into the hypertensive range, and this frequently causes small hemorrhages in the brain. Wherever a hemorrhage occurs in the brain, nerve cells die — and nerve cells are not replaced.

2) ECS ruptures the ‘blood-brain barrier.’ This barrier normally prevents many substances in the blood from reaching the brain. This protects the brain, which is our most chemically sensitive organ, from a variety of potential insults [injuries]. Where this barrier is breached, nerve cells are exposed to insult and may also die. Rupture of this barrier also leads to brain ‘edema’ (swelling), which, since the brain is enclosed by the rigid skull, leads to local arrest of blood supply, anoxia [lack of oxygen], and neuron death.

3) ECS causes neurons to release large quantities of the neurotransmitter, glutamate. This chemical excites further neuronal activity which releases more glutamate, leading to ‘excito-toxicity’ — neurons literally die due to overactivity. Such excito-toxicity has been recognized relatively recently and is now a major topic of research. It is known to accompany seizures and over repeated episodes of ECS may be a significant contributor to accumulated brain damage.

The bottom line is that ECT “works” to the extent that it damages and disables the brain. ….


Dr Bonnie Burstow on ECT as violence against women



Electroconvulsive Therapy Causes Permanent Amnesia and Cognitive Deficits


The ongoing traumatic abuse of psychiatric shock treatment

The Eugenic Impulse in Psychiatry

Given the social, economic and racist etiology of most “mental illness”, psychiatry is, almost by definition, war on the weak:


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