Sylvia Plath on Electroconvulsive Therapy, Pt. 1

A description of ECT poorly applied in the mid-1950s, from The Bell Jar, pg. 143: [i]

I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment.

Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite.

I shut my eyes.

There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.

I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.

A note to clients: the use of ECT has really improved since then.

[i] Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition, ASIN B004N8X6LK


Filed under The Client's Side

2 responses to “Sylvia Plath on Electroconvulsive Therapy, Pt. 1

  1. But why is it necessary in today’s modern age? With psychotherapy, psychotropics, somatic therapy, EMDR, isn’t this saying that maybe they just weren’t working with the right person?

    • Per wikipedia, it’s used today in cases of severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. When therapy and meds aren’t helping and a client is at considerable risk of suicide, ECT can be the “least bad” choice. Plath refers to spending some time in a hospital receiving talk therapy before her ECT treatments began. It would seem that even in 1950’s, psychiatrists didn’t believe it was necessary unless and until less-aggressive treatments failed.

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