William Walters Sargant (24 April – 27 August ) was a British psychiatrist who is . Battle for the Mind, published in , was one of the first books on the psychology of brainwashing. While this book is often referred to as a work on. Sargant, William Walters. Battle for the mind: a physiology of conversion and brain-washing / by William Sargant: with a preface by Charles Swencionis. p. cm. Battle for the Mind. A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing. by William Sargant. Baltimore, Maryland and Hammondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
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William Mund Sargant 24 April — 27 August was a British psychiatrist who is remembered for the evangelical zeal with which he promoted treatments such as psychosurgerydeep sleep treatmentelectroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock therapy.
His ambition to be a physician was thwarted by a disastrous piece of research and a nervous breakdown, after which he turned his attention to psychiatry. In he was appointed director of the department of psychological medicine at St Thomas’ HospitalLondon, and remained there until and after his retirement inalso treating patients at other hospitals, building up a lucrative private practice in Harley Streetand working as a media psychiatrist.
He wrote numerous articles in the medical and lay press, an autobiography, The Unquiet Mindand a book titled Battle for the Mind in which he discusses the nature of the process by which our minds are subject to influence by others.
Although remembered as a major force in British psychiatry in the post-war years, his enthusiasm for discredited treatments such as insulin shock therapy and deep sleep treatment, his distaste for all forms of psychotherapy and his reliance on dogma rather than clinical evidence  have confirmed fo reputation as a controversial figure whose work is seldom cited in modern psychiatric texts.
Sargant was born into a large and wealthy Methodist family in HighgateLondon. His father was a City ssargant, his mother, Alice Walters, was the daughter of a Methodist minister batttle a family of wealthy Welsh brewers. Five of his uncles were preachers.
He did not excel academically but played rugby for St John’s College, was president of Cambridge University Medical Society and collected autographs of famous medical men. His father fro most of his money in the depression in the late s and the scholarship allowed Sargant to continue his medical education. But in —four years after qualifying as a doctor—a nervous breakdown and spell in a mental hospital put paid to his plans.
After his recovery, Sargant worked as a locum at Hanwell Hospitaland then for a while helped his brother-in-law at his Nottingham general practice, before deciding on a career in psychiatry. Whilst there he did some experiments on over-breathing and developed a theory that the difference between normal and neurotic people is that the latter have lost their suggestibility.
Although the results were not altogether successful, Sargant resolved to introduce the operation into Britain. At the outbreak of war in September Sargant returned to Britain to find that the Maudsley had been evacuated and divided into two—one half going to Mill Hill School in North London and the other half setting up a hospital in the old Belmont Workhouse near Sutton, Surrey. Sargant was sent, along with H. Shorvon, clinical director Eliot Slaterand medical superintendent Louis Minski to Belmont workhouse—renamed the Sutton Emergency Medical Service in the name of the hospital would revert to Belmont.
Battle for the Mind
When the doctors advised against operation, Sargant got round this by sending patients to be operated on by Wylie McKissock at St George’s Hospitalwhere Eliot Slater was temporarily in charge of the psychiatric department.
It was, he said, “doing good by stealth”. In he married Peggy Glen; the two had met at the Laboratory at Belmont, where Peggy worked as a volunteer.
The couple remained childless. After the war, Sargant found it difficult to settle at the re-united Flr Hospital and applied — unsuccessfully — for positions elsewhere.
At that time the new department consisted of a basement with no in-patient beds, and no requirement on students to attend lectures on psychiatry. Both at Belmont Hospital and at St Thomas’, Sargant subjected patients to up to three battlle combined electroconvulsive therapy, continuous narcosis, insulin coma therapy and drugs. He said in a talk delivered in Leeds: We can now keep patients batttle or very battls for up to 3 months if necessary.
During sleep treatment we also give them ECT and anti-depressant drugs”.
He wrote in his standard textbook An introduction to physical methods of treatment in psychiatry: What is so valuable is that they generally have no memory about btatle actual length of the foor or the numbers of ECT used After 3 or 4 treatments they may ask for ECT to be discontinued because of an increasing dread of further treatments.
Combining sleep with ECT avoids this Sargant also advocated increasing the frequency of ECT sessions for those he describes as “resistant, obsessional patients” in order to produce “therapeutic confusion” and so remove their power of refusal.
William Sargant, Battle for the Mind
In addition he states: As a rule the patient does not know how long he has been asleep, or what treatment, even including ECT, he has been given. We may be seeing here a new exciting flr in psychiatry and the possibility of a treatment era such as followed the introduction of anaesthesia in surgery”.
Sargant’s methods inspired Australian doctor Harry Bailey who employed deep sleep treatment at Sydney ‘s Chelmsford Private Hospitaleventually leading to the death of 26 patients.
Bailey and Sargant were in close contact and apparently competed to see which of them could keep a patient in the deepest coma. Some of the nurses disliked working in the narcosis ward, but a former ward sister defended the treatment, recalling patients as ‘being pleased to tbe helped’.
It was Sargant’s firm belief that anyone with psychological problems should be treated early and intensively with all available methods — combined if necessary. The available methods, which Sargant also referred to as “modern” and “active” treatments, were drugs in large doses antidepressants, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquillisers, neurolepticselectroconvulsive therapy, insulin coma therapy, continuous narcosis and leucotomy.
Battle for the Mind by William Sargant
Sargant was fond of saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. He was president of the section of psychiatry at the Royal Society of Medicine inand was a founding member of the World Psychiatric Association.
In he was awarded the Starkey medal and prize by the Royal Society of Health for work on mental health. A second bout of tuberculosis and depression in gave Sargant time to complete his book Battle for the Mind and also an opportunity for giving up his year heavy smoking habit.
While this book is often referred to sargatn a work ror ‘ brainwashing ‘, and indeed it is subtitled a physiology of conversion and fogSargant emphasises that his aim is to elucidate the processes involved rather than advocate uses. In the book he refers extensively to religious phenomena and in particular Christian Methodismemphasising the apparent need for those who would change people’s minds to first excite them, as did the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
Sargant connected Pavlov’s findings to the ways people learned and internalised belief systems. Conditioned behaviour patterns could be changed zargant stimulated stresses beyond a dog’s capacity for response, in essence causing a breakdown. Depending on the dog’s initial personality, this could possibly cause a new belief system to be held tenaciously.
Patients, too, recall their treatment at the hands of Sargant in very different terms.
One man who consulted Sargant at his Harley Street private practice for depression in the s later recalled “Will” with affection and respect. Visiting Sargant for a brief consultation every six months, he was given bxttle doses of drugs and had a course of electroconvulsive therapy; he remembered his relief at being told that his depression was caused by chemical and hereditary factors and could not be resisted by an effort of personal will.
British actress Celia Imrie was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital when she was fourteen for the treatment of anorexia under the care of Sargant. She was given electroconvulsive therapy and large doses of the anti-psychotic drug Largactil and insulin. Imrie has written that her eventual cure was nothing to do with Sargant and his bizarre techniques.
Among the points that were brought out were the routine violation of patients’ rights as regards giving consent for treatment; the fact that Sargant admitted in correspondence with an Australian lawyer that patients had died under his deep sleep regime; and the circumstance that all patient records at St Thomas’s and the related health authorities relating to Sargant’s activities have been destroyed, making it difficult — if not impossible — for patients to seek redress through the courts.
John Wesley who had years of depressive torment before accepting the idea of salvation by faith rather than good works, might have avoided this, and simply gone back to help his father as curate of Epworth following treatment.
Wilberforcetoo, might have gone back to being a man about town, and avoided his long fight to abolish slavery and his addiction to laudanum. Loyola and St Francis might also have continued with their military careers.
Perhaps, even earlier, Jesus Christ might simply have returned to his carpentry following the use of modern [psychiatric] treatments.
They are gifted with religious and social apprehensions, and they are gifted with the power of reason; but all these faculties are physiologically entailed to the brain.
Therefore the brain should not be abused by having forced upon it any religious or political mystique that stunts the reason, or any form of crude rationalism that stunts the religious sense.
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