Now I know my ECTS

Guest post by volunteer Ted Aylmer. Visit his interesting Bristol history blog here.

There are so many interesting and amazing artifacts at Glenside Hospital Museum, that sometimes it’s difficult to know which ones to write about.

As ECT is an area that fascinates many people and, since we have a few different models of ECT machines, and one very interesting one in particular. I thought it would make an interesting topic.

This is not an area that I will joke about, since mental health is a serious issue. Please be assured that ECT is only used in very serious cases. One in four of us will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point and if you feel you, or someone you care for, might be suffering from any sort of mental health problem – your first port of call should be your doctor or you can contact the SamaritansMind or other support services. But do not feel ashamed or afraid to reach out and talk to someone.

So, what is ECT?

For those who don’t know, ECT stands for Electroconvulsive Therapy (or Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy), which is somewhat of a misnomer in this day and age as, due to the use of a general anaesthetic and muscle relaxants, the patient’s body no longer convulses but merely twitches in various muscles.

ECT is still in use for severe and prolonged major depression,  mania or schizophrenia: Usually when other therapies have not been effective enough or are not possible to use.

The Procedure

After an anaesthetic and muscle relaxant have been given intravenously to the patient. The electrodes for ECT are placed on both sides of the head (bilateral) or just on one side (unilateral), through which a small, carefully controlled electric current (usually 70-150 volts for 0.1-0.5 seconds) is passed through the brain via a machine specifically designed for the purpose. An ECT machine.

The intent is to produce a seizure that lasts between one-half and two minutes and the entire procedure lasts no longer than 30 minutes.

The Ediswan ECT Machine

ECT machine

ECT machine

The oldest (1940s) ECT machine we have at Glenside Hospital Museum is the Ediswan Electric Convulsion Apparatus, which was built to the specifications of Dr William Grey Walter: former Scientific Director at the Burden Neurological Institute.







The handbook for the machine states:

Cat. No. E.C.600.  Code. Convulse

Complex apparatus, consisting essentially of low voltage transformer for testing patients’ electrical resistance, clear scale precision milliameter, main switch, control regulator and special mechanically operated switch (Prov. Patent)

The specially designed switch prevents the administration of a shock accidentally and is fitted with a calibrated dial giving shock durations of 0.1 second to 1.0 second in one tenth second steps. Pilot lights are fitted to clearly indicate when apparatus is ready for use. The whole is contained in an enamelled metal case with handles for carrying.

A complete set of applicators with headband, cables and connector is provided.

The apparatus weighs only 35lb. and is thus quite portable. Current consumption less than 500 watts. Each instrument is individually calibrated for both voltage and current.

Price complete, ready for use on any specified voltage 200-250 ALTERNATING CURRENT 50 cycles .. £54

Come and See It.

This amazing, and important historical item is on display at the Glenside Hospital Museum in our ECT exhibit. See the museum’s website ( or check the Facebook Page for opening hours and contact details.