ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation-- The New ECT?

Jack Bragen
Friday November 16, 2018 - 10:19:00 AM

lElectroconvulsive Therapy, abbreviated ECT, involves putting electrodes on a person's scalp and running electrical current through the brain. Since the 1950's, it has had an increasingly negative perception among the general public, and with good reason. However, many psychiatrists, to this day, remain enthusiastic about it.  

ECT may have its uses. If a female, depressed patient is pregnant and can't take antidepressants because of the risk of harming the fetus, then ECT may be a good choice. 

Again, many psychiatrists are enthusiasts about it. And many are also enthusiasts about Clozaril. Clozaril, by the way, is an incredibly powerful antipsychotic that really seems to fry people's brains after taking this drug long enough. Both Clozaril and ECT should be last resort treatments, when nothing else works. However, many psychiatrists seem to push these treatments, even if much of the time their push is a gentle one. 

Electroshock can erase parts of a person's memory and it can cause cognitive impairment. Some researchers claim that it doesn't harm the brain. I am skeptical about this. 

Now we have a new treatment that most people in mental health are enthusiastic about: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. However, since I have a history of being an electronic tech, I am aware that putting a magnetic coil up to someone's head is essentially the same idea as putting electrodes on the head and running a current. 

This is basic theory of electromagnetism: When you create a changing magnetic field, it will induce a current in nearby conductors. This is the principle that allows a microwave oven to cook your food. Microwave ovens expose the food to electromagnetic radio waves. This causes electrical current to flow within the food--in electronics it is called "eddy current." 

TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) is really the same idea as ECT, but a bit less invasive. The magnetic coil put up against a person's forehead causes electrical current in the brain, and more so in the frontal lobes, if, as I've read, the coil is placed up against a person's forehead. 

What are we being sold? 

Since TMS is relatively new, we do not know of the long-term side effects. However, psychiatrists and many others are enthusiasts. I have serious doubts. There is also something called "repetitive TMS," which to me is ominous, since it makes TMS resemble ECT even more. 

I'm not going to consent to shock therapy, or TMS, nor will I put my head inside a microwave oven. History of treatment of psychiatric consumers is laden with barbaric acts in the name of helping the patient. It seems that when a new treatment is introduced, it begins with numerous enthusiasts, since it is "the latest miracle treatment." One thing that attracts people to TMS is that it isn't a drug. It is being promoted as harmless and beneficial. However, the same things were likely said about ECT when first introduced. 

Doctors admit freely that they do not understand the mechanisms by which either ECT or TMS work. My best guess as to why they might work could be that they create a blank slate to replace a person's stored unhappy thought patterns. This hypothesis might also explain why people relapse from ECT months or years later, since the unhappy patterns would have a chance to reestablish. 

To elaborate about "unhappy thought patterns": depression is often a product of prevalent self-critical, pessimistic, morbid, fearful, apprehensive, and/or self-hating thoughts. When painful thoughts become deeply ingrained, it can be very hard to fix this with psychotherapy. When you zap the brain with an electromagnetic field, which TMS apparently does, you might temporarily "reset" the part of the brain where these painful thoughts are generated. The above is my best guess, and it is not established in today's psychiatry. 

ECT and TMS do not generally help patients with schizophrenia. This is because schizophrenia is in large part a problem of the mind being disorganized. Zapping the brain of someone with schizophrenia could lead to even worse disorganization.