Article Title

Electroconvulsive therapy in young people and the pioneering spirit of Lauretta Bender


From antiquity up to the middle of the 20th century, with few exceptions, childhood psychiatric disorders were at best ignored and at worst considered manifestations of ‘badness’ or poor upbringing. Thus, it is not surprising that the treatments administered were generally of little clinical benefit or, applying today's standards, more akin to punishment than treatment. In this context, the initial use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in young people in the 1940s provided a welcome breakthrough. ECT was first used in children and adolescents early in that decade by Heuyer and colleagues in Paris, with positive results (1), but what remains the largest published cohort of young recipients of the treatment was that reported by Lauretta Bender in 1947 (2). In that year, Bender described the use of ECT at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 98 children younger than 12 years of age and, while acknowledging that complete remission occurred in only a few patients, Bender suggested that ECT was of benefit in all but two or three of the young recipients. Bender considered the children as having ‘childhood schizophrenia’. However, using contemporary criteria, they would more likely qualify for a diagnosis of developmental disorder or disruptive behaviour disorder.



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