ECT in children : ‘A crime against the spirit’ (Leonard Roy Frank, ECT survivor) by Dina Poursanidou

I wonder how many of you became aware of a short documentary on the use of ECT in children in the USA that was shown by the BBC last week. The documentary was entitled ‘Our World: My Child, ECT and Me’. You can watch the documentary (First shown: 4:30am 20 May 2017 on BBC1) on

On the BBC website it is stated: ‘Children in America are undergoing electric shock treatment in growing numbers. Now known as electroconvulsive therapy – or ECT – the controversial treatment is being used on severely autistic children who self-harm. The BBC has been given access to film a child being treated using ECT. Our World’s Chris Rogers meets parents who say the treatment is helping their children, and the critics who say it is barbaric’.   


Fearful Expression Induced By Electricity, Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne)
Fearful Expression Induced By Electricity, Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne)


John Read,  a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of East London and a  strong critic of the use of ECT who has written about the serious long-term side effects of ECT, gave the following comments on Facebook: ‘Unethical, unscientific, Daily Mail style ‘journalism’ from BBC. Cruelly creating false hope for desperate parents with severely distressed children that shock therapy could be the answer. Two cases! Disturbing new low for BBC coverage of mental health issues’.

I watched the documentary and I felt acutely  angry and sad at the spectacle of a 15 year old autistic boy having seizures whilst the allegedly ‘simple and safe’ ECT treatment was administered. I was horrified to  hear that the boy in question has had over 200 ECT treatment sessions to date and he is going to have regular maintenance ECT sessions for the rest of his life.

I strongly believe that ECT in children should be banned. The words of the late Leonard Roy Frank, an ECT survivor from the USA, come to mind. He said that ‘ECT treatment is a crime against the spirit’. I was nearly given ECT back in 2009 when I was detained for 3 months in an acute ward in Manchester with a diagnosis of severe and treatment (medication)-resistant ‘psychotic depression’. Luckily I was deemed  to have capacity to refuse ECT.

I have a locum psychiatrist on the ward to thank for this. The terror around the possibility of being given ECT and the damage ECT can cause has haunted me to this day – I still (8 years later) have acutely anxious dreams where I am about to be administered ECT treatment.

However, having said the above, I do not know how I could respond to the mothers of the two autistic children in the aforementioned BBC documentary who swear by ‘the significant  benefits of ECT for their children’s quality of life  and their family as a whole’…I feel I could/should not negate their experience but at the same time the words of Leonard Roy Frank  are echoing  painfully in my head… ‘ECT is a crime against the spirit’.


PS. This is the first blog I posted after a very long absence (nearly two years!) from the world of mental health blogging…writing this blog reminded me of how much I love writing this way, i.e. in the first person, in an emotionally engaged and embodied way…I will try to sustain this way of writing.