Letter to a young psychiatrist

Georges Daumezon was a French psychiatrist who implemented psychotherapy in psychiatric institutions. In 1952, together with his colleague Philippe Koechlin, he introduced the term “institutional psychotherapy”.

After graduating in Law in 1932, he earned his doctorate in medicine in 1935. He headed several psychiatric departments and services.

He then became head physician at the Henri-Rousselle section of the Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital, where he changed the admission system, creating the Psychiatric Orientation and Reception Center that was named after him.

At the beginning of his career, Daumezon asked Constance Pascal for guidance to conduct research in psychiatry.

Constance Pascal’s reply to the young psychiatrist is still inspiring today for those working in mental health field. Passion, vitality and curiosity are personal and professional requirements to become a psychiatrist. Respect for patients, clinical observation and the belief that everything is modifiable are fundamental aspects of care. Above all, you do not have to put labels without knowing people … as many psychiatrists are still doing today!



English translation of the original letter in French is by Felicia Gordon.

To achieve a career in research after many years of psychiatric study, one must keep one’s mind youthful, enquiring and naive, and above all one must get rid of all traces of book-learning, which is based on theories – mere collection of words. […] What to research on, and how? First of all, find out for yourself. Talking to patients, asking them questions, is the only path to wisdom: that way you will understand the immensity of what is unknown and the feeble limits of what is known. […] What to research on? The great mistery of the normal mind and the diseased mind. Don’t try to create a herbarium of mental illnesses […] but, little by little, create a herbarium of the mentally ill. Study mad people before you try to study madness, and do it by the simplest means – observation and comparison. Many of my colleagues are woefully ignorant of their patients; before they do anything else, they slap on a label with a Greek word on it and it’s around the patient’s neck for the rest of his life […] Some psychiatrists do more harm than a devastating cataclysm. They destroy everything, thinking they are building something. Psychoanalysis has much that is valuable in it; it has shown us the play of emotional life. But forget Oedipus! […] As one grows older one learns to doubt, but if the mind has kept its vitality one knows also that the insane are fascinating people; every day they open to us a world of phenomena that inspire curiosity. I am just as curious as I ever was to understand the mystery of how we think; I listen to them with more dedication than when I was young. […] I have no time for biological or psychopathological Jansenism. Fixed constitutions and heredity are nonsense – theories that just confirm our ignorance. Everything is changeable. […] The insane told the key to the great mystery of thought , its birth and its death. The inner mental world of patients is more interesting than their behaviour, unless one is in possession of the Arianne’s thread that leads from the act to the cause.

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