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Flescher, J. (1950). The “Discharging Function” of Electric Shock and the Anxiety Problem. Psychoanal. Rev., 37(3):277-280.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Review, 37(3):277-280

The “Discharging Function” of Electric Shock and the Anxiety Problem

Joachim Flescher, M.D.

We have given our attention elsewhere (1) to the psycho-dynamic problem of the therapeutic process in electric shock. Considering the specific nature of artificially induced epileptic seizures, we have freed ourselves from the general deductions drawn by various authors from observations based on shock-therapy (as well as on prolonged narcosis). A psychological hypothesis, which explains different therapies on the basis of one common feature, such as loss of consciousness, neglects the striking motor phenomena. It is significant that indications in various mental disorders have been differentiated on the basis of clinical observations of the results of the two distinct groups of shock-therapy. In depression cases, for instance, every psychiatrist would prefer, today, electric-shock to insulin-therapy. One could, therefore, logically infer that when therapeutic methods produce different results, this calls for a study of their differences rather than for emphasis on their common features.

After this preliminary statement, we shall proceed to summarize briefly such arguments and observations as are sufficient, in our opinion, to point out the source and the character of energies involved in electric shock in particular, and in convulsive seizure in general:

(1)  From the phenomenological point of view the electrically induced convulsive seizure is first characterized by motor manifestations. These are of a violence never exceeded in human experience.

(2)  The purpose of our motor system is not only to change our physical relationship with the outside world, but also to act as the medium for our aggressive impulses.

(3)  The violent motor phenomena discharge considerable amounts of aggressive energies, thus diminishing their initial tension, in accordance with the economic principle of instinctual energies.

(4)  Electric shock attains its major successes in the cases of depression, in which the subject's exalted aggressiveness is released in a centripetal direction (self-accusation, micromania) to reach its climax in suicidal tendencies.

(5)  Transient

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