Heinz E. Lehmann: The mental hospital – monster, fossil or utopia

Hector Warnes’ comment

I have just read in awe Lehmann’s paper on Mental Hospitals. After having visited many Mental Hospitals, I must say that the Verdun Protestant Hospital was unique and quite advance in its combination of ‘moral treatment’, research, social and occupational therapies. I found it strange that he did not write half a page on the history and function of this institution which I could easily compare with the Burghoelzli Hospital in Zürich.

The word Asylum (a=without; sylë=right of arrest) was a place of shelter, protection, safety and even sanctuary. Dörr Zeggers, the Chilean psychiatrist wrote an excellent study on the difference between mystical states and psychopathological states. At times they do overlap and Saint John of the Cross revealed the pits of melancholy as did the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Goya and countless great painters were inspired in their work by ‘Lunatics’. Volmat, a great French psychiatrist in the mid-20th century collected works of art of mental patients. There are several books written on the psychopathology of some great men and also on the creativity and genius of some “mad men”. It seems to me that in his paper Dr. Lehmann unwittingly is building boundaries between “us” and “them” which for me do not exist. Having known personally Heinz Lehmann, he was kind, warm and extremely devoted to his patients, most of whom revered him as a doctor and a father-figure. We are aware that some great men had ‘mental breakdowns’; some of them at the peak of their creativity, during or independent of their mental status.



Dörr-Zegers O. Fenomenología diferencial de las psicosis paranoides en la epilepsia- Actas Luso-Esp. Neurol Psiquiatr. (Spanish) 1992; 20 (3); 120-129.

Dörr-Zegers O. Rauh J. Aspectos clinicos y etiopatogénicos de las psicosis epilépticas que evolucionan sin perturbación  de la conciencia-  Actas Luso-Esp. Neurol. Psiquiatr. (Spanish) 1984; 12: 27-42.

Volmat R. L’art psychopathologique. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1956.


Héctor Warnes

July 28, 2016