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Guest Columnist Author: Carol A. Kivler Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Demystifying ECT: A Patient’s Success with Electric Convulsive Therapy

By Carol A. Kivler
Aug 18, 2010 - 3:46:54 PM

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( - As a courageous survivor of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), I am often asked to speak to people suffering with depression and their family members about ECT. Many have the same exact questions that I had when I was first asked to consider ECT as a treatment intervention for my clinical depression back in 1990. Today, 20 years later, I’ve had over 50 successful ECT treatments during my four major bouts with clinical depression. ECT has become my “ladder out of the depression pit” for which I am most grateful.

Like many of you, I, too, was terrified at the thought of how ECT was given and more importantly what others might think of me afterwards. The media has portrayed ECT as a barbaric treatment; a treatment only given to “crazy” people in the dark wards of psychiatric hospitals. This life-saving treatment is as far from that reality as it can be.

Electroconvulsive therapy is again coming into favor as a treatment for severe depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, its success rate is 80 percent whereas medication has a success rate of between 40 and 45 percent.

To provide a better understanding of ECT, the following is what a patient encounters:
1. The patient receives an IV containing anesthesia and a muscle relaxant
2. Blood pressure and pulse monitoring devices are applied
3. EKG leads monitor the heart and EEG leads monitor the brain
4. A bite-block in inserted in the mouth to prevent the possibility of patients
biting their tongue
5. An oxygen mask is placed over the face to ensure proper respiration
6. Electrodes are applied to the right temple and the parietal area on the head
7. The electric current is adjusted to the lowest intensity and shortest duration
8. The doctor applies the electrical stimulus by pressing a button on the end of
one ECT handle
9. The brief pulse stimulus lasts just 1 to 2 seconds
10. One ECT course consists of 6 to 12 treatments

It is still unclear why ECT helps patients with severe depression. Some feel that the electrical shock and subsequent seizure somehow simulate the brain’s neurons and reconfigure chemicals in the limbic system that regulate and balance the emotions. Alternatively, the seizure may alter the body’s hormonal system to relieve depression.

The biggest challenge for me was accepting ECT as a viable treatment option. It was easier for me to understand the treatment than it was for me to accept the treatment. ECT has become my “treatment of choice.” The positive outcome from ECT outweighs the stigma surrounding ECT. I have come to understand and trust ECT as my “silver bullet” in dealing with my severe clinical depression.

Carol Kivler is a passionate consumer advocate, speaker, author and the founder of Courageous Recovery. She speaks to consumers, their loved ones and healthcare professionals to raise awareness, instill hope and combat stigmas surrounding mental health diagnoses and treatments. Carol shares her journey of recovery from four bouts of medication-resistant depression and her positive experience with the life-saving treatment ECT through keynotes, breakouts and Grand Rounds.

Along with Courageous Recovery, Carol is also the founder and president of Kivler Communications which provides executive coaching and customized workforce development training. Carol was the first consumer on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Mercer, NJ and continues to be actively involved in its mission. Carol is also a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the American Society of Training & Development, and the MercerCountyCommunityCollege Advisory Commission.

Carol lives in Lawrence Township, NJ and is the proud mother of three grown children and five grandchildren.

Will I Ever Be the Same Again? is available for purchase at the author’s website,, and Fifteen percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to NAMI-Mercer to support their wonderful services.

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