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Electroconvulsive therapy machine

A metal box with switches and dials, electrodes are connected to the box with wires.

Electroconvulsive therapy machine, © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

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  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • This is a very strange looking machine, it looks like part of an aeroplane or boat, certainly not something that would be used on a person, but that’s exactly what this machine was used for.

      This is an Electro Convulsive Therapy Machine, it would have been attached to a person through wires that were stuck to their chest or head. Then the machine would create a small electric shock that would travel along the wires and shock the person attached.

      It was believed that this short shock could alter the brain and treat some forms of mental illness. This has always been a controversial type of therapy as it can be quite painful for the patient and so when treatment drugs were developed ECT machines largely went out of use. Nowadays we have anesthetic which means that therapies like this aren't painful at all.

      Things to think about:
      • Can you think of any other medical treatments that use electricity?
      • Why do you think there is a dial on the machine?
      • Can you think of any other old medical practices that would have been painful for the patient.

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