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Voltage of Electroshock Therapy

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Bibliographic Entry Result
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Straub, Richard O. "Chapter 16: Therapy." Study Guide. New York: Worth Publishers, 1995: 414. "Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been proven quite effective and is used mainly for chronically depressed people who have not responded to drug therapy. In 1938, when ECT was first introduced, wide-awake patients were strapped to a table to prevent them from hurting themselves during the convulsions, and were shocked (jolted) with 100 volts of electricity to the brain." 100 V
ECT Machines. 25 April 2002. "Two of the most common fallacies regarding Electroconvulsive therapy (and ECT machines) are that: a small electric current is passed through the brain and the voltages used are no higher than 150 volts. Nothing can be further from the truth. As can be seen from the table below, the smallest current is 0.75 amps, more than enough to kill if applied across the chest. A voltage as high as 450 volts speaks for itself. (see table below)" 225–450 V
Friedbarg, John M. Shock Treatment, Brain Damage and Memory Loss: A Neurological Perspective. American Journal of Psychiatry. 134: 9, (September 1977): 1010-1013. "ECT parameters were conventional. i.e. 130 volts for 0.3 seconds." 130 V
Stevens, Lawrence. Psychiatry's Electroconvulsive Shock Treatment: A Crime Against Humanity. The Antipsychiatry Coalition, 27 January 2005. "ECT consists of electricity being passed through the brain with a force [sic] of from 70 to 400 volts and an amperage of from 200 milliamperes to 1.6 amperes (1600 milliamperes)." 70–400 V
Machine Country Voltage (V) Current (I) Charge (Q)
ECTRON Series 5A UK 225 Volts 0.75 Amps 700 mC
MECTA SR2 UK 240 Volts 0.8 Amps 1200 mC
MECTA SR2 USA 240 Volts 0.8 Amps 576 mC
MECTA SR2 EUROPE 240 Volts 0.8 Amps 403.2 mC
THYMATRON DGx UK 450 Volts 0.9 Amps 1008 mC
THYMATRON DGx USA 450 Volts 0.9 Amps 504 mC
THYMATRON DGx EUROPE 450 Volts 0.9 Amps 504 mC

Millions of people suffer from mental disorders such as depression each year. One of the most controversial treatments for such disorders is electroshock therapy, more commonly known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure in which electricity is passed through the brain to induce seizures in a patient. These seizures are induced using very brief bursts of alternating current. Since the voltages used are enough to burn the skin around the electrodes, electrode jelly is used to reduce the effects.

This practice is extremely debatable in the minds of people all over the world. Severe risks of this procedure include brain damage, memory loss, and in extreme cases, death. Also, many argue that the high voltages used are extremely dangerous, as they would be enough to kill a person if applied to places other than the head. Also, if not properly medicated before the procedure, the induced seizures are powerful enough for patients to unknowingly break their own bones.

Although the voltage applied in this procedure varies with each person as well as with each machine used, the average voltage applied to the patient's head is around 400 volts. 450 volts is typically the maximum value applied while 70 volts is generally the minimum. Many machines apply a voltage of 225-240 volts, which is a safer alternative to the maximum values.

Gina Castellano -- 2005

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Shorter, Edward. "Alternatives: Electroshock." A History of Psychiatry. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1997: 218-224. "In the meantime, however, with the assistance of a technician, [Lucio] Bini had constructed a primitive apparatus that would permit application of 80 to 100 volts of electricity for a fraction of a second." 80-100 V
Carson, Robert C. "Electroconvulsive therapy." Encyclopedia of Psychology. Volume 3. New York, NY: American Psychological Association, 2000: 155-156. "The preferred and now standard mode of achieving seizure was introduced by the Italian physicians Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini in 1938. Their standard technique, the basics which remain in use today, was to apply, via electrodes placed in the temporal region of both sides of the head, 'wall socket' alternating current (AC) between 70 to 150 volts for 0.1 to 1.0 seconds." 70-150 V
Null, Gary (Ph.D.) "The Hidden Side of Psychiatry: Electroconvulsive Therapy." Say No to Psychiatry (SNTP), 1999. "In ECT, 180 to 460 volts of electricity are fired through the brain, for a tenth of a second to six seconds, either from temple to temple (bilateral ECT) or from front to back of one side of the head (unilateral ECT)." 180-460 V
Friedberg, John M. "Shock Treatment, Brain Damage, and Memory Loss: A Neurological Perspective." American Journal of Psychiatry. 134, 9 (September 1977): 1010-1013. "It was also known in this early period that voltage applied to the head, as in legal electrocution, produced hemorrhage and rupture of cranial contents. Ugo Cerletti demonstrated that the electricity in the range of 100 V and 200 mA is rarely fatal when current path is confined to the head." 100 V
Slife, Brent. "Electroshock: Death, Brain Damage, Memory Loss and Brainwashing." Taking Sides: Views on Controversial Psychological Psychological Issues.8th Edition. Guilford, CT: Dushkin Publishing Group Inc., 1994: 291. "One does not need a medical degree to recognize the destructive potential of passing 100 to 150 volts of electricity through the human brain." 100-150 V

Imagine yourself on a hospital bed, waiting for electricity to shoot through your brain --so you can revive yourself and not be mired in severe manic depression. Well that's the core of what electroshock therapy is. Sounds good, right? Well-what about the side effects?

Electro convulsive therapy (ECT) or electroshock therapy was first implemented in 1938 to treat patients with severe, delusional depression or schizophrenia. 100 to 150 volts of electricity was applied to the brain, via an alternating current, to induce a seizure. This is fired through the brain for a tenth of a second to about 1 second from temple to temple (bilateral) or from the front of one side to the back of it (unilateral) is the procedure.

Psychiatrists believe that mechanically produced seizures help modify the metabolism of the neurotransmitters believed to cause severe depression. Although a relatively safe procedure, the idea of shooting electricity through one's brain is a shocking idea that patients fear.

Such fear from the procedure might be traced to the known effects that ECT produces. Amnesia, confusion, cardiac arrest, recurring seizures, and brain damage are all side effects that patients fear. In fact, during the procedure, the brain sometimes lacks oxygen so it pumps more blood into its vessels. The vessels pop from the pressure and hemorrhaging of the brain can result. These days, however, "crash carts" are always present, with a defibrillator and oxygen tank at the ready.

Shooting electricity through the brain has become a major controversial issue in the modern age. From prior patients' experiences to literature like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," ECT has not been in wide demand or use in the United States today. Only when no other treatment can be given is ECT even an option.

Diana Kuruvilla -- 2005