ECT FAQ

The following questions and answers can help you better understand electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

What is ECT?

ECT is a well researched, highly effective medical procedure that is used to provide rapid relief to those suffering from severe symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.   

Who should consider ECT?

ECT can benefit those with depression, particularly medication-resistant depression (defined as a lack of therapeutic response to two or more courses of antidepressants), or those who suffer from severe symptoms of other psychiatric conditions, as recommended by their physician.

Is ECT safe?

Yes, it’s very safe. During the treatment, an electrical current is briefly sent to the brain through electrodes placed on the front part of the patient’s head. The patient is closely supervised throughout the entire procedure by an ECT physician, a board certified anesthesiologist, and a specially trained registered nurse.   

Is there any discomfort during treatment?

No, the patient is given anesthesia prior to ECT and is unaware of the treatment as it is being administered.

Is ECT covered by insurance?

Most insurances cover ECT.

What are the benefits of ECT?

In addition to providing relief from symptoms, treatment with ECT can reduce lost work time, the need for hospitalization, the cost of medications, and the number of side effects from multiple medications or having to take higher doses of medications to achieve symptom relief.

What are the possible side effects of ECT?

Possible side effects include headache, body aches, and short-term memory loss, but not everyone will experience them. Prolonged or long-term memory loss with ECT is rare.

Is ECT appropriate for patients with a bipolar diagnosis?

ECT can be very effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder symptoms for certain patients.

Is ECT ever considered as a first-line treatment?

In certain situations, ECT could be considered as a first-line treatment option. The option of ECT can be offered at any time in a patient’s treatment plan, depending on the severity of symptoms.   

Do I need to take time off of work during ECT?

During the treatment series, we suggest taking a leave from work. This would be the same recommendation for most medical interventions, such as hernia or carpal tunnel repair. Patients with any short-term memory loss should also refrain from driving until these symptoms subside. We recommend that patients do not work or drive on the day of each ECT treatment.

How many treatments are generally given?

Everyone is different and receives an individualized course of treatment. Initially, patients usually receive six to 12 treatments, administered three days a week (typically every Monday, Wednesday and Friday). The number of treatments is determined by the improvement in symptoms.   

Do I still see my regular psychiatrist during outpatient ECT?

Yes; your outpatient psychiatrist can assess your progress and continue with medication management as an adjunct to your ECT. We will send a report to your psychiatrist after each ECT treatment session.

For more information, please call the Princeton House Behavioral Health ECT Suite at 609.613.4780 or email ljohnson@princetonhcs.org.