Dr. Oz Show – The Shock That Could Save Your Life – Electroshock Therapy for Depression

As many people know the Dr. Oz show, did 30 minutes today on electroshock therapy. I’m going to talk a little about the Dr. Oz show’s representation of electroshock therapy and add a few additional facts.

First off, the Dr. Oz show is a source of entertainment, like anything else on TV, so he added drama that wasn’t particularly necessary. That is the way of the show, and TV, however. Specifically, the show started off with scenes of electroshock therapy being given pre-1950 which is when you see people having convulsions in the bad old days before people were anesthetized during treatments. This is not the best way to start a show that is supposed to educate about current treatment, but he does balance this later on.

The Good About the Dr. Oz Show

I was impressed really. They did do a lot of things right and they did share a lot of facts about electroshock therapy, now known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). What the Dr. Oz show did right:

  • Represented the modern procedure accurately and even showed the procedure being performed
  • Mentioned repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) as an alternative therapy (rTMS uses magnetic waves rather than electricity)
  • Stated that almost all insurance companies cover ECT (to the best of my knowledge this is true)
  • Spoke that it should be used judiciously
  • Placed it in a reasonable historical context
  • Tried to reduce stigma and fear and increase awareness around the procedure
  • Mentioned memory loss (twice) as a side effect

The Bad about the Dr. Oz Show on Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

As with all things in life, nothing is perfect. Some things you should know that weren’t altogether accurate about the show:

  • Only talked about right unilateral brief-pulse ECT – while this is considered the most modern form of ECT it is not the only type. Before getting ECT you need to know what type you are getting in order to accurately judge the risks.
  • Stated that ECT “reset the chemical messengers / receptors” in the brain – the truth is we don’t know exactly how ECT works, we only know that it does. It’s likely it works in multiple ways but “resetting chemical messengers / receptors” is mostly just a simplified concept and not medically accurate or at the very least, not medically complete.
  • Didn’t mention the other side effects of ECT – while memory loss is generally considered the most concerning, other side effects are also possible.

Altogether, I thought it was a good show, and if a tad flamboyant, represented ECT well but there are other things you should be aware of.


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