Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a treatment that involves brief electrical stimulation to the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. The electrical stimulus produces a convulsion that affects neurons and chemicals in the brain. ECT is typically used when other treatments, such as medication and talk therapy, are not having the desired results. The procedure has been recognized as an effective evidence-based treatment by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Patients who could benefit from ECT include those who:

  • Have severe depression that has not responded to other treatments
  • Have bipolar disorder that has not responded to other treatments
  • Have schizophrenia, particularly for those patients who display symptoms of catatonia
  • Are at a high risk for suicide and need a treatment that will elicit a rapid response

Although ECT can be very effective for certain people with severe, chronic mental illness, it is not a cure. Patients will need to continue with some form of maintenance treatment such as medication, talk therapy, and/or more ECT treatments.

The ECT Program at MarinHealth Medical Center

Patients seeking ECT will have a thorough consultation with our psychiatrist, who is specially trained in ECT, and with our ECT Coordinator. If, after the initial consultation, it is medically indicated to proceed with treatment, patients will require a second opinion from another psychiatrist and medical clearance before beginning a treatment series. Care will be closely monitored by our clinical team. We also offer therapeutic and support groups to patients and their families as they undergo ECT treatments. Our team will also work closely with the patient’s community mental health providers to ensure safe transition of care.

The Procedure

ECT treatment is generally administered in the morning, before the patient has had breakfast. A specially trained team of professionals, including a psychiatrist specializing in ECT and a certified anesthesiologist, administers the procedure.

The patient is given a muscle relaxant and put under general anesthesia. Electrodes are then attached to the patient’s scalp and an electric current is applied. The patient awakens about 10 minutes after the procedure is over and can resume normal activity in about an hour. Most people require ECT treatments two to three times weekly for three to four weeks, for a total of six to 12 treatments.