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ECT - Electroconvulsive Therapy

State-of-the-art technology improves time-tested therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been used in psychiatric treatment for over 70 years, and is still in use today because it can help many patients.

"Its popularity has waxed and waned, but it has always shown success," said Dr. Matthew Stanley, psychiatrist with Avera University Psychiatry Associates and medical director for Avera Behavioral Health Services. "In spite of all the advances in drug treatment, some patients don't respond, or they don't respond quickly enough," Dr. Stanley said. The primary illness treated effectively with ECT is depression. ECT has been used consistently at Avera since the 1950s. Nine psychiatrists are trained in using this treatment.

The ECT suite at the Avera Behavioral Health Center is state-of-the-art. Improved technique and technology has made modern ECT safer and much more tolerable than in the past. Procedures take place three days a week at the Behavioral Health Center - typically 10 to 15 each day. Patients with severe depression usually receive a course of six to eight treatments. Patients on maintenance ECT may receive a treatment once a month.

"We see improvement in almost every area - in mood, motivation, interest, energy and sleep patterns," Dr. Stanley said.

Before undergoing ECT, patients receive muscle blockers and short-term anesthesia, so they are asleep for the procedure. Through electrodes, patients receive a brief, precisely calculated electrical pulse which causes a controlled seizure. "That is the therapeutic part of the treatment," Dr. Stanley said.

While researchers don't completely understand how ECT works, it is thought that seizures cause changes in brain chemistry.

Kitty Dukakis, who visited the Avera Behavioral Health Center in October 2007 on a speaking tour, is a proponent of ECT, and feels it is greatly underutilized. Mrs. Dukakis, former Massachusetts First Lady, is the author of Shock, The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, in which she wrote about the success of ECT in her own battle with depression.

At a recent speaking engagement, Mrs. Dukakis said that of all the ECT treatment facilities she's visited, Avera Behavioral Health Center in Sioux Falls, SD, has one of the best.

Additional Resources

Read the following articles to learn how ECT has helped one family's battle with depression.

Avera Medical Minute: TMS Therapy

Watch Dr. Matt Stanley and a patient discuss TMS Therapy.

Coping With Holiday Stress: KXRB

Dr. Matt Stanley talks about depression during the holidays on the radio show I Love Life.

Listen now

National Institute of Mental Health Outreach Partnership Program

View updates regarding our partnership program and other available resources.