BEIJING, June 3 (RIA Novosti) - A Chinese clinic has been treating teenagers suffering from an addiction to the Internet with a controversial course of shock therapy, the China Daily said on Wednesday.
The clinic in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong claims that some 3,000 youngsters have successfully undergone its form of aversion therapy that uses unpleasant experiences like a small electric shock to reinforce unacceptable behavior.
The center's director Yang Yongxin said that he administers a current of 1-5 milliamperes on his patients and was cited by the UPIAsia.com site as describing the treatment as "therapy to clear the mind" which he claims does not cause brain damage.
The controversial treatment costs parents, who have to sign an agreement consenting to the electric shock treatment and giving the center guardianship over their children, 6,000 yuan ($878) per month.
The electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) is given to the youngsters as punishment for minor offenses that associates bad behavior with a penalty. Aversion therapy is commonly used to treat a number of addictions, but ECT is usually only administered to those suffering from acute depression or some mental disorders.
The teenagers are also forced to publicly confess their addiction to their parents. In addition, they are not permitted to discuss anything that does not involve overcoming their disorder.
Although the treatment has been subject to criticism some patients approve of the radical measures and many of them have been angered by the condemnation.
"Compared with being on mind altering drugs for three months, electroshock is a safe and effective way to make my son calm and obedient," the newspaper quoted a mother of an 18-year-old patient as saying.
Yongxin, calls his activity "a holy crusade" against internet addiction. In his view, ECT is just a "refreshment therapy," which is "mild and not dangerous," and helps children relax.
His opponent Tao Ran, director of the China's first Internet addiction clinic, says ECT should be administered only to suicidal patients and as a last resort.
"It'll make patients more submissive, no doubt. But at the same time, ECT will cause memory loss," he told the China Daily, adding that Yongxin's clinic is "the only Internet addiction clinic in the world that applies ECT to patients."
Tao's center, established in 2004, practices "comprehensive therapy" that includes medication and counseling, and claims to have already treated 4,000 patients.
Internet addiction is not classified as a mental illness in China. The country has about 300 million Internet users, and some 40 million of them play online games.
The global video game industry was worth $41.9 billion in 2007 and is expected to hit around $68 billion by 2012.