The original logic behind the use of electroshock therapy as a tool to ease human psychological distress has some quite amusing, but at the same time, disturbing roots. The reasoning, debased as it may be, was based on accepted lines of thought of those times and proceeded something like this:

1. Epileptics, who have seizures, can not develop schizophrenia.

2. Electroshock of pigs at the time of slaughter causes a seizure.

3. Causing a seizure in humans will cure schizophrenia.

(Witch starts with "W". Wood starts with "W". Wood floats, and so witches, beginning with "W" of course will float. Throw her in the water and if she sinks, she wasn't a witch. Makes perfect sense to me)


1938 — Italian psychiatrists Ugo Cerletti and Lucino Bini introduced
electroconvulsive treatment at the University of Rome in April 1938. The
subject of the first experiment with the procedure was a vagrant
identified only as “S. E.” He had been picked up by the police who had found him
wandering about in a railway station. The Police Commissioner of Rome sent
him to Cerletti’s institute, where “a diagnosis of schizophrenic syndrome
was made based on his passive behavior, incoherence, low affective reserves,
hallucinations, deliriant ideas of being influenced, neologisms.” The first
attempt to induce a convulsion with electricity on S. E. failed because
insufficient current was applied. According to Cerletti, “It was proposed
that we should allow the patient to have some rest and repeat the experiment
the next day. All at once, the patient, who evidently had been following the
conversation, said clearly and solemnly, without his usual gibberish: ‘Not
another one! It’s deadly!’” Despite the subject’s plea, Cerletti
administered a second and stronger shock, this time triggering the seizure.

Thus, the first ECT was carried out against the subject’s will, without his
or anyone else’s permission. Earlier in Rome, Cerletti had experimented
with pigs and later wrote, “Having obtained authorization for experimenting
from the director of the slaughterhouse, Professor Torti, I carried out tests,
not only subjecting the pigs to the current for ever-increasing periods of
time, but also applying the current in various ways across the head, across
the neck, and across the chest.”

Referring to the first use of electroshock on a human being, Cerletti wrote,
“When I saw the patient’s reaction, I thought to myself: This ought to be abolished.”

[Editor’s summary based on Frank J. Ayd Jr., “Guest Editorial: Ugo Cerletti (1877-1963),”
Psychosomatics, November-December 1963 and Cerletti, “Old and New
Information About Electroshock,” American Journal of Psychiatry, August

1938 — Cerletti had been worried that something might go wrong with the first treatment, and it was given in secret.... When the first treatment went well, we were allowed to attend the second treatment. We were called together for the treatment with a trumpet!...

According to my wife — because I don’t remember it exactly — she claims that when I came home I was very pale and said, “I saw something terrible today — I never want to see that again!”

LOTHAR B. KALINOWSKY (German-born U.S. electroshock psychiatrist and for many years the world’s leading authority on ECT, 1900-1992), quoted in Richard Abrams, “Interview with Lothar Kalinowsky, M.D.,” Convulsive Therapy, vol. 4, 1988. In 1933, Kalinowsky fled Germany for Italy where, between 1936 and 1939, he was associated with Cerletti. After arriving in the United States in 1940, he wrote hundreds of journal articles and co-authored several influential books on psychiatry’s physical treatments.