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Speakers bureau formed to oppose electroshock treatments in Ontario

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Over the decades, many health-care professionals have spoken out against electroshock.

But for the first time an organization of professionals has been formed to expose what they call a harmful treatment, stating that "mainstream psychiatry has flagrantly and persistently misrepresented both this procedure and the vast body of research surrounding it."

The Healthcare Professionals against Electroshock Speakers Bureau is a diverse group of informed health-care professionals that includes psychotherapists, nurses, doctors, psychologists, counsellors and social workers, situated in different regions across Canada.

The group hopes that educating people about electroshock will eventually lead to its abolition.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as electroshock, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients with severe depression who have not responded well to other forms of treatment.

"As professionals, we know that this is an essentially brain damaging procedure that wipes out huge aspects of memory," said Dr. Bonnie Burstow, a faculty member at the University of Toronto, psychotherapist, trauma specialist and researcher, who has written extensively on ECT.

Yet psychiatrists still believe modified electroshock is a safe an effective treatment.

"Modified shock has been going on since approximately 1959 and almost all the brain damaging studies we're talking about are on modified shock. We also know that it's not effective."

At Monday's press conference in the Queen's Park media studio, Burstow said she and her colleagues can't work with clients on their therapeutic issues because they can't remember what's bothering them.

"Not speaking out is a violation of our obligation of care as professionals," said Burstow, adding, "The administering of ECT is in direct violation of the doctors Hippocratic oath."

Burstow expressed concern that many professionals, including doctors and nurses, are afraid to join the Speakers Bureau because they could lose their jobs if they speak out against electroshock.

"Can you imagine getting fired for telling the truth about damage?" asked Burstow.

In spite of the risks, Simon Adam decided to join the group out of what he called "a moral commitment to his patients and their loved ones."

After a long period of moral distress, the nurse and doctoral student decided to break his silence and stand up against electroshock. "I have reviewed the pro-ECT literature and it paints a flawed picture of the intervention," said Adam.

"It depicts it as a safe treatment when it is not even remotely so."

Adam knows people who have undergone ECT treatments and tell a very different story, one of pain and tragic loss, chronic seizure problems and memory loss, and irreversible brain damage.

When working with ECT survivors, therapist and PhD psychology student Terra Dafoe said many are left with a deep distrust and fear of health-care professionals.

"Most survivors I know were never informed of the seriousness of the brain damaging effects that would follow, the years of their lives that may be erased or the impact ECT might have on their family members," said Dafoe.

"Nor were they informed about how their ability to function and live in the world might be compromised."

Even though NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo's private members bill to defund ECT in Ontario died on the order table, Dafoe said the issue is far from being decided.

"It's our responsibility to speak out at every opportunity, again and again, until the horror of ECT is no more," she said.

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