...Italian psychiatrist Ugo Cerlettiis credited with the introduction
of electroshock therapy. Cerletti, having "doubts regarding the danger
of electric applications to man," observed that hogs were subdued and
calm moments before slaughter after the application of 125 volts using
metallic tongs clamped to their temples.
"It occurred to me," wrote Cerletti, "that the hogs of the
slaughterhouse could furnish the most valuable material for my
experiments...At this point I felt we could venture to experiment on
man, and I instructed my assistants to be on the alert for the
selection of a suitable subject."
On April 15, 1938, Cerletti found his man, known only by the initials
S. E. The Police Commissioner of Rome found S.E. wandering, and took
him to the hospital for observation. Cerletti diagnosed S.E. with a
form of schizophrenia and applied the first use of ECT, using the
small dose of 80 volts for 0.2 seconds. S.E. jumped, then stiffened
and fell back on the bed. Then he burst into song.
"It was quite evident to all of us that we had been using a too low
voltage," Cerletti wrote. He discussed the patient with his colleagues
and decided to let S.E. rest before giving him another shock. The
patient, who had - unbeknownst to Cerletti - been listening to the
conversation said clearly in Italian "Not another one! It's
deadly!" [Non una seconda! Mortifierel"]
"I confess that such explicit admonition under such circumstances, and
so emphatic and commanding, coming from a person whose enigmatic
jargon had until then been very difficult to understand, shook my
determination to carry on with the experiment. But it was just this
fear of yielding to a superstitious notion that caused me to make up
my mind. The electrodes were applied again, and a 110-volt discharge
was applied for 0.2 seconds." (1)
With that, electroshock therapy was born.
In an article written by Dr. Frank Ayd in 1963, Cerletti is quoted as
saying "When I saw the patient's reaction, I thought to myself: This
ought to be abolished! Ever since I have looked forward to the time
when another treatment would replace electroshock." (2)
1. Frank, LR (1978). The History of Shock Treatment. San Francisco.
2. Ayd, F.J. Jr. Guest Editorial UGO CERLETTI, M.D. (1877-1963).
Psychosomatics, 4:A6-A7, 1963.