Professional accounts of electroconvulsive therapy: a discourse analysis

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Stevens, Peter ; Harper, David J. (2007)
  • Subject:
    mesheuropmc: behavioral disciplines and activities | mental disorders

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a socially contested psychiatric intervention. However, the accounts of professionals involved in its use have rarely been systematically investigated. This study aimed to examine the accounts of clinicians who have used ECT on a routine basis. Eight health professionals (psychiatrists, anaesthetists and psychiatric nurses) with experience of ECT administration were interviewed about the procedure. Discourse Analysis was used to interpret the interview transcripts. Interviewees appeared to draw on a repertoire which constructed ECT recipients as severely ill. This was used to support claims which had the effect of: defining who should receive ECT; warranting the use of urgent physical psychiatric treatments; reformulating distress in biological terms; and discounting the therapeutic value of alternative, non-physical interventions. The interviewees managed concerns about ECT in a variety of ways, for example by: rendering it as a medical procedure with concomitant risks and benefits; downplaying a lack of clarity over its evidence base; and undermining the legitimacy of criticisms. Implications of these findings are discussed.
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