Many think of ECT as a therapeutic modality that went out with, well, lobotomy, but we're still using it, because it's still the best therapy in some cases of depression or bipolar disorder when drugs just aren't cutting it. That convulsive therapy works for anything is pretty surprising given the haphazard way it was discovered, which actually makes a nice story. Ladislas Meduna noticed in the thirties that hardly anyone was epileptic and schizophrenic. This is true, but his theory, that perhaps the two conditions were antagonistic, and convulsions could be used to drive out schizophrenia, turned out to be completely wrong. Convulsions -- which in the beginning were induced mainly with camphor or our old friend Metrazol -- didn't have the slightest effect on psychosis. But in the next few years, during which they were the new hotness, doctors like Meduna were giving them to everyone -- and that's how, almost by accident, it became clear that convulsions did have an effect on mood disorders. As we know, Walter (and his brother Norman) pumped Aunt Florence full of it in 1937, the same year a couple of Italian doctors, Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini, first tried to induce therapeutic convulsions with electricity. Back in the day ECT (still called electroshock) was scarier than it is today, when doctors with lots of experience can target specific brain areas and have the decency to give the patient a sedative and a muscle relaxant first. (Honestly, can you believe they didn't used to sedate patients before electroshock? Wouldn't you rather deal with a sedated patient than with a wide-awake and terrified one?) Anyhow, as soon as it became clear that plain old electricity worked to induce convulsions, all the drugs quickly fell by the wayside. That was more than seventy years ago, and we're still using ECT, this therapy that was stumbled upon back in the gruesome kick-the-TV years of psychiatry, because by God, it sometimes works! We don't know how, but it does!
Cerletti and Bini were nominated for the Nobel Prize but didn't get it. I wish they had. You've got to figure they were a bit miffed in 1949 when Egas Moniz did. I would have been miffed!
It's said that the first words of the first human electroshock recipient, once the seizure was over, were "What the fuck are you assholes trying to do?"