Shock Therapy: Treatment or Torture?

Shock Therapy: Treatment or Torture?

Most people have heard about shock therapy treatments, a popular method of treating individuals with emotional and behavioral disorders in the 40s and 50s.  What many people don’t know is this treatment is still used.

Researchers are unsure how or why shock therapy treatment works for patients with severe emotional or behavioral problems, and it continues to be a very controversial subject.  Based on concern about the side effects and obvious pain caused by the treatment, it should be used only as a last resort. 

“As a last resort” tends to be the operative phrase in the debate.  The controversy over shock therapy continues to gain interest as more cases of its abuse become shown in the media. 

In April of 2012, a video of a special needs teenager was released as evidence in a lawsuit against the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts.  The video shows several educational personnel pinning this teenager to a mat and administering over 30 electrical shocks, each about 2 seconds in length.  Called “skin shock,” these treatments are administered under the consent of the individual’s parents, but these parents are suggesting the treatment was taken too far -- it was no longer a treatment but rather a torture. 

Other parents say the shock therapy is the only thing that has worked for their children.  For children with severe disabilities or who are causing physical harm to themselves, the treatment can be an effective one.  Shock therapy is meant for individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others and have not seen improvement with other treatments. 

The video of the Rotenberg Center’s alleged abuse, filmed in 2002, was released to the public via Boston’s Fox 25 News in April of 2012.  The first shocks came after the teenager refused to take off his coat, and more shocks were administered for yelling or tensing his body -- all of these behaviors were grounds for the shock therapy according to his treatment plan. 

Local and federal government officials are pushing to get shock therapy banned from use.  The United Nations even says skin shock is akin to torture and is “barbaric.”  The Rotenberg Center is fighting back by lobbying against bills that limit them from giving the treatment.  While the Senate fully supports banning shock therapy, House Speaker Robert DeLeo stands in support of the Rotenberg Center.

Just like the House and Senate, parents and professionals are split in this debate.  The UN and many parents call it torture, but the Rotenberg Center and many of their students’ caregivers praise the treatment’s efficacy.  Click to view Boston’s Fox 25 report and video.  Click to view the Rotenberg Center’s case study regarding skin shock.

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Written by: Candice Evans See other articles by Candice Evans
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