The demographic features of the complainants are interesting. In the published reports and malpractice actions, the plaintiffs are well-educated women, often nurses, with histories of prolonged depressive illness marked by somatic features and suicidal episodes. ECT was the last resort, reluctantly advised and administered, that resulted in relief of depression, physical complaints, and suicide risk. The loss of personal memories is a new focus of illness that is described in painful terms, making return to work impossible. Remarkably, however, the plaintiffs function extremely well in new roles as critics of psychiatry.
-Max Fink, the “Grandfather” of American ECT
This is the quote that inspired me to look specifically at the doctor-patient relationships in first-hand accounts of shock therapy. It comes from an “Perspective” article (most of what Fink has written in the past couple of decades seem to be his opinion; he rarely makes the effort to even give the appearance of scientific evidence anymore). I’m sharing it since I’m getting so close to my thesis defense and I’m procrastinating again, plus we don’t hear a lot about shock (and certainly not criticisms of shock doctors). It’s interesting that in this quote he mentions the gender of the complainants, when he completely ignores gender differentials elsewhere in his writing. Women have consistently made up 70% of patients treated with shock (usually prescribed by male doctors), but Fink tries to bury this. It’s only when he’s positioning them as hysterical that he mentions they are women…
Max Fink seems like a cartoon character… or a politician. He frames ECT doctors as benevolent figures who are victims of increasing regulations into their practice when they just want to help! He gets away with constantly dismissing claims of negative side effects of ECT by former patients by saying they benefit from making these claims, eg:
We can ignore the few former patients who make a career in the antipsychiatry movement. Their complaints have been answered by sober assessments that find no evidence for brain damage in ECT.
Fink never acknowledges how much HE benefits from the perpetuation of electroshock. He’s built his legacy on this practice! He’s developed a film that was sold with shock machines (just one of many examples)!
There’s lots more where this came from, and I’ll probably write more about what Fink has said and done soon, I’ve been waiting to have my thesis done first. I’m excited to continue researching Max Fink, because I’m sure I will find so much that can be useful in criticisms of shock therapy.
Fink, M. (2007). Complaints of loss of personal memories after electroconvulsive therapy: Evidence of a somatoform disorder? Psychosomatics, 48,4, 290-293. doi: 10.1176/appi.psy.48.4.290
Fink, M. (2002). Move On!. The Journal of Ect, 18, 1, 11.