Coalition for the Abolition of Electroshock in Texas Statement on Electroshock and Women

“By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me. I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.” --Sylvia Plath, 1960

The Coalition for the Abolition of Electroshock in Texas (CAEST) is a local and international coalition of citizens deeply concerned about the grievous harm done to individuals by the administration of electroshock. CAEST is committed to abolishing this cruel and dangerous practice in Texas.

About 100,000 Americans are being electroshocked each year. As Bonnie Burstow explains in the quote at the end of this brief statement, while 95% of electroshock doctors are male, two-thirds of the “patients” are women. The majority of these women are either elderly or of perimenopausal age. The use of ECT is increasing, and most of these costly "treatments" are insurance-covered.





Why is it that women are disproportionately represented as electroshock patients?

1) This is a legacy of patriarchy, where women continue to be coerced, overtly or subtly into psychiatric treatment.

2) This is also a legacy of sexism, where “’masculine“ stoicism is valued and feminine” qualities such as emotional expression are classified as psychopathological. It is also related to sexism in that social and economic inequality is still a big factor in our society, and understandable stress reactions, sadness and confusion are interpreted as “symptoms of mental illness.”

3) Women, compared to men, are expected to be passive, and they may be punished or silenced for speaking out and complaining. When a woman is being considered for electroshock, one should ask, "What is important that she not remember and tell about?" Or "What is it that the others do not want to hear or look at?" Often it is abuse, always it is difficult or disruptive conduct that makes others feel uncomfortable or threatened.

4) Women are on average more open to getting help than men. In our psychiatric system, it is assumed that human problems and crises are due to biologically or genetically based “mental illnesses.” The primary treatment is psychotropic drugs, so women reaching for help get drugs, these drugs often do not help or actually worsen their situation; hence, the backup treatment of electroshock is brought into play.

5) Elderly women often cannot handle psychotropic drugs because of aging and infirmity, so are considered prime candidates for electroshock. 6) Women of perimenopausal may be experiencing depressive symptoms due to undiagnosed hormonal or endocrine changes.

THE PROCEDURE Electroshock involves the attachment of electrodes to one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) temples, through which electricity is passed into the frontal lobes of the brain. Intensity of the electrical current voltage varies from approximately 70 to 600 volts. Duration of the current varies from 0.5 to 4 seconds. Administration of ECT also varies enormously in number of treatments, from one to literally hundreds over time. A typical course of treatment involves 6 to 12 sessions. The procedure is usually administered with the following general classes of medication: general anesthesia, tranquilizers and muscle relaxants. Each of these drugs has a wide range of effects on the body, mind and emotions.

Two pieces of information to know are that:

1) The natural electrical activity of the brain is measured in millivolts, or thousandths of a volt. Thus, the power of ECT is literally hundreds of thousands of times greater than natural brain electrical activity.

2) The average ECT procedure involves a level of electricity that can range from the minimum level required to induce a convulsion up to 40 times greater than that. The official APA recommendation ranges from 1 1/2 to 3 times greater than that required to induce a convulsion.


Research indicates the following: 1) No lasting beneficial effects of ECT. 2) Sham-ECT (where individuals are anesthetized and told they will receive ECT,

but actually do not) has the same short-term outcomes as actual ECT. 3) ECT does not prevent suicide. Suicide rates for those receiving ECT are no lower than non-ECT patients with similar diagnostic profiles.

LACK OF SAFETY Electroshock is a dramatic example of iatrogenic (medically-induced) disease. ECT routinely causes brain damage, memory loss and mental disability. In addition to obvious physical and mental damage, there are a number of other negative effects of ECT. These include:

1) Suppression of emerging distress material; 2) Suppression of ability to heal by emotional release; 3) Creation of emotional distress, including deep feelings of terror, despair and powerlessness; 4) Promotion of human beings in the roles of victims and passive dependents of medical professionals; 5) Confirmation of patients' belief that there is something seriously wrong with them and that they are inferior.


Women are subjected to electroshock 2 to 3 times as often as men. To cite as examples statistics from different eras and locations, a 1974 study of electroshock in Massachusetts reported in Grosser (1975) revealed that 69% of those shocked were women. By the same token, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (Weitz, 2001) show that for the year 1999-2000 in Ontario, Canada, 71% of the patients given ECT in provincial psychiatric institutions were women.... Another statistic that seems relevant is that approximately 95% of all shock doctors are male (Grobe, 1995). Factor in these statistics and a frightening and indeed antiwoman picture of ECT emerges: Overwhelmingly, it is women’s brains and lives that are being violated by shock. Overwhelmingly, it is women’s brains, memory, and intellectual functioning that are seen as dispensable. Insofar as people are being terrorized, punished, and controlled, overwhelmingly those people are women. And what is likely not coincidental, almost all the people making the determinations and wreaking the damage are men....

[At public hearings] woman after woman maintained that despite the rationales used, the real purpose of the electroshock was social control. Cognitive impairment or memory loss was frequently identified as the means. The implicit rationale is: What cannot be remembered cannot be repeated or acted on.

ECT appears to be effective in the way abuse is always effective: by inspiring fear of further violation. There is evidence, additionally, that a vicious cycle sets in, with ECT used to stop women from complaining about the effects of ECT. Many women testified that they were chastised when they spoke of the treatments making them worse, were ordered to stop “acting out,” and were warned that continued complaints would be interpreted as illness and would result in further “treatment.”...

Electroshock is a part of the repertoire of the patriarchy; and it functions as a fundamental patriarchal assault on women’s brains, bodies, and spirits. It is an assault that has much in common with traditional battery. It is traumatizing, even traumatizing “patients” who only witness it. It controls women and, indeed, is used to control women. It combines with other forms of violence against women. It is a special threat to women who are severely violated and is used to silence women. As such, its very use is a feminist issue. BONNIE BURSTOW (Canadian feminist psychotherapist and lecturer), “Electroshock as a Form of Violence Against Women,” Journal of Violence Against Women, April 2006. The three references cited in the first paragraph above are: G. H. Grosser, “The Regulation of Electroshock Treatment in Massachusetts,” Massachusetts Journal of Mental Health, vol. 5, 1975; Don Weitz, “Ontario Electroshock Statistics” (unpublished), 2001; and Jeanine Grobe, Beyond Bedlam, 1995. Quote from Leonard Roy Frank’s Electroshock Quotationary, which may be downloaded free of charge from the CAEST website,

NOTE: Above statements regarding electroshock safety and efficacy are backed up by research available on the CAEST website at CAEST mailing address is 5306 Fort Clark Dr., Austin, TX 78745.