Thank goodness the methods for delivering ECT have altered since the early 1900’s when it appears it was delivered with direct contact with water and with no anaesthesia. According to the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan in America “Electroconvulsive therapy, commonly called ECT, was developed in 1938. During the period following its introduction, ECT was found effective for treating multiple psychiatric illnesses, especially depression. With the development of psychiatric medications and stigma associated with ECT in the 1960’s, the use of ECT treatment declined. The use of ECT has increased since the 1970’s because of improved treatment delivery methods, increased safety and comfort measures, and enhanced anaesthesia management”.
According to the site “Electroconvulsive therapy involves applying a brief electrical pulse to the scalp while the patient is under anaesthesia. This pulse excites the brain cells causing them to fire in unison and produces a seizure. The specific reason for the positive action of ECT is unknown, but this treatment appears to have many effects. There are multiple theories to explain why ECT is effective. One theory suggests that the seizure activity itself causes an alteration of the chemical messengers in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Another theory proposes that ECT treatments adjust the stress hormone regulation in the brain, which may affect energy, sleep, appetite, and mood.
Reference: http://www.psych.med.umich.edu/ect/how-does-ect-work.asp (Accessed 19.03.15)