Dr. Toby Watson, Clinical Director of Associated Psychological Health Services in Wisconsin; former Director, International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry.
Dr. Toby Watson, who says electroconvulsive therapy is anything but therapeutic, is outraged the FDA isn’t doing something.

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers reclassifying electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) devices as “safe and effective”—even while they have been proven to cause severe brain damage and wipe out memory—the Citizens Commission on Human Rights invited veteran psychologist and humanitarian Dr. Toby Watson to weigh in.

How would you describe ECT?

When people are suffering that’s a software issue. They’re suffering for a reason. The ECT device is basically like going to a computer and shocking the heck out of the mother hard drive and then saying “Look, the program seems to be running differently!” Except you just wiped out a ton of data on that hard drive and it’s not running well. Maybe it’s not glitching the way it used to glitch, but now it’s glitching differently, and the software doesn’t seem very happy and the person trying to work with that software isn’t very happy.

One case in particular was a very successful architect who did drawings on a computer and who received ECT. He literally lost the ability to work a computer. He didn’t know what the mouse was for. He didn’t know what to click. It was just gone.

What would you like to see happen with ECT?

It’s barbaric and I think it should be banned. It’s the same as yesteryears when people were trying to cure the insane with spinning chairs or water torture.

Today, we support the idea of shocking children because a doctor in a white coat says it’s okay to do. But if I stood in the back of a classroom and said I’m going to cure these children of ADHD by smacking them on the back of the head with a 2x4 (piece of wood) if they don’t pay attention, no parent would ever condone that in a million years. But I would do less brain damage than ECT.

What are your views on the FDA?

The FDA has been corrupted. The fact that the FDA relies upon drug company money is absolutely insane. This has to be a completely separate agency where the people are not tied in any way, shape or form to the products they’re reviewing.

“Why would anyone listen to the FDA, especially related to ECT devices? The FDA has continually failed to monitor and ensure that ECT device manufacturers are doing what the FDA has requested.”

Why would anyone listen to the FDA, especially related to ECT devices?

The FDA has continually failed to monitor and ensure that ECT device manufacturers are doing what the FDA has requested. There are no consequences for not performing. Then these device manufacturers even have the guts to say, “Not only are we not going to give you what you’ve asked for—data to say that we’re safe and effective—we’re also going to ask you to classify it differently.”

The FDA’s job is supposed to be to protect the public. Unfortunately we’ve recognized that doesn’t seem to be the case. If that were true and you look at the overwhelming evidence, you would arrive at one conclusion: these devices are not safe and effective.

What do you have to say about ECT device manufacturers?

They’re not there to help people. They’re there to sell a product. Unfortunately we have a culture here where people are placed under profit. That’s what’s happening with ECT.


As a nonprofit mental health watchdog, CCHR relies on memberships and donations to carry out its mission to eradicate psychiatric violations of human rights and clean up the field of mental health. Become part of the world’s largest human rights movement that has helped enact more than 180 laws protecting citizens from abusive mental health practices.