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Increased access to therapy offers new hope for people living with certain psychiatric illnesses

In recent years, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has proved to be an effective tool in treating many psychiatric illnesses, including depression, catatonia, mania and schizophrenia. At Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, the treatment has been available to patients admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit during their stay and after discharge, but it has not, until now, been available on an outpatient basis.

“We’re thrilled to now offer ECT to people in our outpatient programs because an individual no longer needs to be admitted to the hospital to experience the benefits of this treatment,” explains Benjamin Yudkoff, MD, MA, attending psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Partial Hospital and Ketamine Infusion Programs at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. “ECT is similar to going to the gym and working out. When you lift weights, you apply a stress to the muscle and the muscle responds by releasing different chemicals, like growth hormones, thus becoming more effective and efficient. With ECT, we’re using low energy pulses of electrical current to activate brain cells which results in changes in concentrations of a number of chemicals in the brain, including growth hormones. This results in changes to the way the brain communicates with itself, ultimately leading to relief from psychiatric illness.”

Research shows that up to 80 percent of people with depression experience relief with ECT. “Given ECT’s success, it should not be considered a treatment of last resort, but incorporated into a person’s treatment when adequate relief of suffering has not been established with traditional therapies like medication,” continues Yudkoff.

Is ECT right for me?

Depictions of ECT in popular culture have led many to believe the treatment is painful, but Dr. Yudkoff says that simply isn’t true. “ECT is now done with anesthesia and muscle relaxants, making the procedure comfortable. Any discomfort is really minimal for the majority of people who are electing to receive ECT.” 

For patients 18 year of age and older who would like to incorporate ECT into their treatment plan, an eligibility interview is required, as well as routine medical clearance, which includes lab work, a physical exam and an EKG. For those who qualify, ECT is covered by insurance and is typically delivered twice a week or three times a week in a series of six to twelve treatments.

“It is our goal to work with each patient to develop a plan of care tailored to the individual. Our treatment approach is trauma informed, patient centered, collaborative and allied with you,” says Dr. Yudkoff.

To learn more about ECT or request an appointment with an expert at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, visit BWFH.org.

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