1987, p. 78), and the CIA believed that the only possible
explanation for this was that the Chinese had brainwashed the
American prisoners. As such, the CIA wanted to study
brainwashing. Rather than directly fund research, the CIA funded
cover organizations who would not be scrutinized as the CIA
would be (Collins, 1988). One of these cover organizations was
the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology (SIHE); this
group funded Cameron’s research into psychic driving from 1957
to 1960 (Collins, 1988).
meanwhile, was becoming increasingly extreme in his attempts to
develop psychic driving into a successful therapeutic technique.
Some patients were still able to resist the treatment, and
consequently Cameron was not quite getting the results he
wanted. He began using electroconvulsive therapy in association
with psychic driving, and referred to this as "depatterning".
His aim was to disorganize disturbed or resistant patients, to
allow psychic driving to have its full effect. He believed that
"you could regress patients, particularly schizophrenics, back
to their infancy" (Gillmor, 1987, p. 56). This was done by
administering ECT at much higher levels than it had ever been
applied before. Under Cameron’s plan, patients received ECT "up
to three times daily" (Gillmor, 1987, p. 56), and this pattern
of treatment would continue for thirty days (Collins, 1988).
After this, he would attempt to "repattern" his patients with
psychic driving. However, by this point, the patient was often
"unable to walk or feed himself, and [was] likely incontinent"
(Gillmor, 1987, p. 56).
Despite the objections of some of his colleagues, Cameron
carried on trying to perfect his psychic driving technique
(Gillmor, 1987). In 1961, he lost the financial support of the
SIHE, and by 1964, his treatments were beginning to prove
useless. He himself referred to psychic driving as "a ten-year
trip down the wrong road" (Gillmor, 1987, p. 136). He left the
Allan Memorial later that same year.
Fifteen years later, a group of nine former patients at the
Allan Memorial brought suit against the CIA for funding research
that led to harm of the patients at the Allan (Collins, 1988).
Their lawyer, American civil rights lobbyist Joseph Rauh, wanted
to settle out of court because of the advanced age and declining
health of his clients (Collins, 1988). However, the CIA was
willing to neither settle nor negotiate. Rauh subsequently filed
a formal complaint, requesting one million dollars per
plaintiff. He then tried to get the Canadian government to
support the plaintiffs in their suit against the CIA, [but] to
no avail. During the filing of depositions, "CIA and U.S.
Justice Department lawyers . . . were . . . stopping testimony
where they could on the grounds that it might be damaging to
national security" (Collins, 1988, p. 220-21). The Canadian
government still would not help, passively saying they "couldn’t
release any American-originated documents without the approval
of its correspondent" (Collins, 1988, p. 221). The CIA offered a
"nuisance settlement" of $25,000 per plaintiff, which was
summarily refused. Finally, in 1988, the case went to trial. The
lawsuit, however, was fruitless; the CIA never paid any money to
any of the plaintiffs, nor did they issue an apology.
Cameron’s Use of Electroconvulsive Therapy
Cameron’s use of electroconvulsive therapy would likely be
judged barbaric by the standards of today, as ECT is now used in
a much more humane way than it was in the past. As Holmes (1997)
explains, before ECT begins, the patient is administered both a
strong sedative and a muscle relaxant. The purpose of the
sedative is to ensure that the patient is unconscious when their
convulsions begin and the purpose of the muscle relaxant is to
reduce violent muscular contractions during the convulsion.
Indeed, Holmes (1997) states that "[b]efore muscle relaxants
were used, patients often broke bones during the convulsions"
(p. 268). The strength of the electrical current that is used
varies between 70 and 150 volts, and lasts from between 0.1 to
one seconds. Treatment is usually administered three times a
week, and if the patient has not responded within five to eight
administrations of ECT, "it is usually concluded that ECT will
not be effective, and it is stopped" (p. 270). Cameron, in
contrast, administered much higher doses of ECT. Gillmor (1987)
reports that Cameron had been overseeing use of ECT at the Allan
Memorial since 1951, but he "…felt that a more forceful
application of it might produce more impressive results" (p.
55). Rather than administering a single shock to the patient, he
would shock the patient six times in rapid succession
(Collins, 1988). He would apply this technique -known as a
"Page-Russell", after its inventors - twice a day for thirty
days in a typical attempt to depattern one of his patients. At
times, patients would even receive three treatments a day
(Gillmor, 1987). Cameron used a current of 150 volts, which
lasted for one second. At the Allan Memorial, patients received
anywhere from 30 to 150 treatments of ECT.
Dr. Ewen Cameron to the right
It is easy to see that Cameron was more extreme in his use of
ECT than psychiatrists are today. However, to determine if
Cameron was misguided in his use of ECT, we must compare how his
contemporaries used ECT, and how ECT use changed after Cameron
developed his technique. The most obvious difference between
Cameron’s application and current use of ECT is the number of
shocks administered. Page and Russell, two British doctors, had
developed the afore-mentioned Page-Russell technique, in which
patients received a series of shocks, each four seconds apart
(Gillmor, 1987). Two American doctors, Kennedy and Ancell, also
were testing the effects of multiple applications of ECT. Thus,
Cameron was not alone in his repeated use of ECT. Page and
Russell, however, only recommended daily administration of ECT,
as did Kennedy and Ancell. Mukherjee, Sackeim, and Schnur
(1994), in their review of 50 years of use of ECT, report that
in the studies they looked at, "treatment frequency varied from
twice weekly to a 5-days-per-week schedule" (p. 172). This is
still a much lower rate of application than Cameron was using.
As such, Cameron’s use of the treatment two or three times daily
does appear extreme. In 1985, Public Health Reports advised that
"[r]egressive ECT (administration of a large number of
treatments during a short period . . . ) is ‘no longer an
acceptable treatment’ . . . and multiple-monitored ECT . . . has
not been demonstrated to be sufficiently effective’" (p. 549).
Another consideration is the voltage used in the application
of ECT. As Strain, Brunschwig, Duffy, Agle, Rosenbaum, and
Bidder (1968) point out, "electrical parameters have been
demonstrated to be a factor in memory loss" (p. 294). This is
significant because many former patients at the Allan reported
chronic memory loss (Collins, 1988). Cameron again, however,
used a voltage comparable to that of Page and Russell (Gillmor,
1987), and even within the range currently used (Holmes, 1997).
Frankel (1975) and Strain et al. (1968) both report use of the
same voltage, with Strain and his associates administering the
shock for two seconds instead of just one.
Overall, then, Cameron was not using a shock that was too
severe for his patients to handle. Where he became extreme in
his use of ECT was in the frequency of application. Even if he
believed that a "more forceful application . . . might produce
greater results" (Gillmor, 1987, p. 55), he should not have
increased the number of applications so greatly in such a short
period of time. I believe that this was unconscionable. It shows
a complete lack of regard for the well being of his patients,
and a lack of understanding of the treatment that he was using.
Cameron can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing beforehand what
the effects of his use of ECT would be; one of Cameron’s
successors defended him, saying that "Cameron’s work must be
viewed from a historical perspective and should not be judged in
light of current ethical practices" (Robertson, cited in
Gillmor, p. 139). However, Cameron should have been able to
recognize the adverse effect that his ECT use was having on his
patients, and he should have ceased what he was doing long
before lack of funding forced him to do so.
At first, it seems perplexing that Cameron would have pushed
ahead with treatment, in light of the adverse effects he must
have been seeing in his patients. Still more intriguing is why
Cameron would persist in developing the treatment against the
objections of his colleagues at the Allan. Gillmor (1987) points
out that most of Cameron’s staff did not approve of the way
Cameron was using ECT. One doctor said that the
"problem . . . was that there was never enough money
to set up a proper rehabilitation program. That would .
. . interfere with Cameron’s ‘quick fix’ solution. It
would be less of a breakthrough . . . if patients
required six months of [post-treatment] therapy"
(Gillmor, 1987, p. 57).
In addition, Cameron’s fellow psychiatrists at the Allan did
not approve of his treatment ideas (Gillmor). Collins (1988)
explains why Cameron would push on in spite of all of this
criticism; Cameron wanted to win a Nobel Prize for his research.
Even Cameron’s son believes that Cameron was driven by this
goal. I sincerely hope that this was not behind Cameron’s push
to develop psychic driving and depatterning as a cure for
schizophrenia. This does not seem to fit with the man who
developed the open-door policy for his patients at the Allan. It
is bad enough that his patients suffered severe memory loss, and
were left as shells of their former selves. If this was the
result of Cameron’s ignorance, at least we can say that Cameron
was trying to cure them. However, if all of this is the result
of Cameron’s quest for recognition and acclaim, then he has done
a terrible injustice to the patients who were entrusted in his
care, to other psychiatrists and psychologists who are to be
scrutinized and distrusted more because of his actions, and to
the Canadian public, who supported his work through government
funding. If all of this happened because of his need for
recognition, he cannot be called a humanitarian; rather, he
could be said to show a complete lack of regard for mental
patients and their care.
Attitudes Toward Mental Patients: Have They
If Cameron truly was more interested in achieving recognition
than in caring for his patients, then he must not have had a
very positive attitude towards mental patients. This can only be
speculated - we cannot know for sure what Cameron’s motivating
factors were. Perhaps we would not be surprised to find out that
Cameron was driven by his ambition and had a negative attitude
toward mental patients. However, we would be surprised to find
out that his attitude did not differ greatly from that of
society as a whole. Here we will look at whether attitudes
toward mental patients have changed in the last 30 to 40 years -
that is, whether such treatment could happen now - and try to
delineate where research ends and treatment begins.
One would assume that Cameron must not have had a very high
regard for his patients’ rights if he was willing to inject them
with LSD or administer repeated treatments of ECT. Morgan (1971)
points out, however, that this fits with the attitude of
Cameron’s time. Research ethics were previously not something
one had to worry about; researchers were "…used to proceeding
with their work without thinking or worrying about general
ethical questions . . . [t]he usual rule has probably been: if
you’re interested, investigate" (p. 276). The public would not
have any objection to such treatment of mental patients; while
Johannsen (1969) points out that the term "mental patient" can
"…refer to anyone who has ever obtained help from a mental
health professional." (p. 218), it is more often taken by the
lay person to refer to an individual who has been admitted to a
psychiatric hospital. Johannsen (1969) relates information
regarding a study done by Cumming and Cumming in Canada in 1957,
looking at attitudes toward the mentally ill. Rather than
educating the public, the "experiment served . . . to solidify
pre-existing attitudes of fear and defensiveness" (p. 219). In
fact, every group Johannsen looked at - the public, general
medical practitioners, employees in mental institutions,
patients’ relatives, employers, religious clergy, and political
leaders - had negative attitudes toward mental patients. These
negative attitudes ranged from "fear, distrust, and dislike" (p.
219) to an underestimation of "the seriousness of the
constituent’s symptoms" (p. 222). Rabkin (1972) summarizes the
problem nicely in stating that the "public tends to reject
disturbed behaviour that is socially visible, even if it is not
severe in terms of incapacitating effects on the patient" (p.
Because such attitudes have been so prominent, research has
been allowed that has ignored the rights of the individual.
Morgan (1971) argues that this is because researchers working in
hospitals were trained in a university setting. The emphasis in
a university setting is to publish in scholarly journals, win
research grants, and so on. When they transfer to the hospital
setting, they take this "university mentality" with them. The
researcher is faced with factors - such as the rights of
individuals - which they are not accustomed to having to deal
with. The result is that the patient’s rights are often ignored.
Whether or not one believes that this is purposeful depends on
how one views the academic system as it is set up. The scope of
this paper is far too small to deal with this issue, but it is
really no surprise that such a mindset has developed as a result
of the academic ideal; that is, to publish.
There is some evidence that attitudes toward mental patients
are changing. Waterman (1974) stresses that we must emphasize
the rights of the individual, as "each [research] participant is
a distinct individual entitled to the full protection of his
rights" (p. 470). To value research findings above the
individual, to state that "most subjects suffered no ill harm"
is of no benefit to those who do suffer (Waterman, 1974) .
Morgan (1971) points out that the individual must be regarded as
an end, rather than a means to an end; the patient cannot be
valued less than the research itself. This begs the question,
where does research begin and treatment end? It seems obvious
that Cameron’s work at the Allan Memorial was research; to call
it treatment would be farcical, not to mention a complete
disservice to all of the patients Cameron "treated". It would
seem that treatment ends and research begins when the mental
health professional / would-be-researcher values the research or
experimentation more than the well being of the patient. Any
time that the individual’s goal is to earn accolades, or win
recognition, it is research. Research does need to be
done; no science, including psychology, can progress without it.
However, new treatments should not be developed if, during the
development of treatment, the well being of those being
experimented on is not given the greatest importance.
As mentioned, attitudes toward mental patients are changing,
but not enough. Riverview, a psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam,
B.C., has gone from having more than 4,000 beds in the 1960s to
less than 800 at present (lecture, January 30, 1997), largely
because of budgetary constraints. The public is often resistant
to having former mental patients in their communities (Holmes,
1997); there is still a great deal of ignorance as to who
"mental patients" are and what "mental illness" is, just as
Johannsen (1969) described 30 years ago. What does all of this -
the events at the Allan Memorial, the use of ECT, changing
attitudes toward mental patients - mean for psychology? I think
it means that psychology cannot really move forward as a
discipline until it educates people as to what mental illness
really is. So many people view mental illness as a sign of
weakness, or an imperfection in the individual, when often (at
times, at least) it is due to nothing more than a chemical
imbalance in the brain. Without this type of education, it is
conceivable that something similar to the events at the Allan
could happen again.
Psychology also has to work at gaining back the trust of the
public. Events like what went on at the Allan Memorial only make
people critical and distrustful of psychologists. We need to
educate the public as to what it is that we actually do now -
and I hope that is, to try to help people - and work at gaining
trust. Without trust, we will not have the support and
cooperation of the public, and we cannot move forward as a
The events at the Allan Memorial Psychiatric Institute in the
1950s and 1960s set psychology back to its dark ages. As a
discipline, psychology is still trying to work its way back into
the trust of the public. Cameron said that "psychic driving
[was] a potent procedure" (1956, p. 508); I do not think he
realized just how potent it was. I believe, however, that if
psychology can learn from Cameron’s mistakes, and if we can
educate the public to the point that they understand mental
illness and mental patients, then perhaps some good can come out
of all this. It is unfortunate that it took the destruction of
so many people’s lives for this to happen.
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