Thomas A. Ban: In Honor of Pierre Pichot
Edward Shorter: Pierre Pichot - An Appreciation
Born in 1918 in La Roche-sur-Yon, a small town in the west of France, Pichot studied medicine in Paris and became an “interne” in 1944 (graduating in medicine four years later). He trained under Professor Jean Delay at the Ste Anne mental hospital and went on to become one of France’s leading psychiatrists.
One recalls what was going on in postwar French psychiatry. Jean Delay had just become the professor of psychiatry and, in this dawn of psychopharmacology, became, together with his assistant Pierre Deniker, heavily involved in drug trials. (“Assistant” in the French system is roughly the equivalent of the North American associate professor.)
Pichot went in a different direction. On completing his training in 1949, he became Delay’s other assistant. Yet Pichot opted for importing psychology, particularly the use of psychological scales, into French psychiatry and became an international authority on measurement. He spent years as a faithful student of Delay’s until succeeding him in 1972 as the professor of clinical psychiatry with a chair at Ste Anne. Pichot and Delay co-authored a primer in 1967 on psychology for psychiatrists. Pichot later wrote (Shepard 1982), “I helped to introduce rating scales into France and to plead for scientific methodology in the conduct of clinical trials.”
Pichot will also be remembered for two other achievements, the study of comparative patterns of nosology and introducing a professional approach (which is to say a non-Freudian approach) to the history of psychiatry.
Fluent in German and English, Pichot wrote systematicaly about differences among the American, French and German approaches (Pichot 1982, 1984, 1992). Few other clinical psychiatrists had the learning and the language skills to pull this off. He also wrote (1996) about the evolution of individual diagnoses, such as panic disorder.
Many medical historians will remember Pichot as the author of the first authoritative history of psychiatry not written as an affirmation of psychoanalysis (1983). (Analytically-oriented authors had a tendecy to end the story with Freud, where, they believed, the history of psychiatry came to a glorious finale.) Pichot ended the story with “the remedicalization of psychiatry” and called attention to the work of Karl Leonhard, Jules Angst and Carlo Perris.
In personal terms, Pichot is recalled as an effervescent figure whose interests, as seen in the library of his appartment in the Fossé St Jacques, spanned the breadth of psychiatry and beyond. He was as easy in visiting the NASA Space Center, together with Texas psychologist John Overall, as in lecturing at German universities on comparative nosology.
Pichot was president of the World Psychiatric Association from 1977 to 1983. He said, in his 1982 memoir (Shepard 1982), “The WPA has a specific mission which was formulated at the first Congress [in 1950]: to make psychiatrists, whatever their nationality... aware of the specific nature of their discipline and of the common scientific bases on which it rests.” Acutely conscious of the parochialism of the French school – and of all the other national schools – Pichot will be remembered as having tried to create a psychiatry “without frontiers.”
Delay J, Pichot P. Abrégé de psychologie. (A Brief Guide to Psychology). Paris: Masson, 1967.
Overall J. Recollections of Pichot. Ban TA, editor. An Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology, IV. Brentwood TN: ACNP, 2011, pp. 293-294.
Pichot P. Memoir. In: Shepherd M, editor. Psychiatrists on Psychiatry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 126.
Pichot P. The Diagnosis and Classification of Mental Disorders in French-Speaking Countries: Background, Current Views and Comparison with Otther Nomenclatures. Psychological Medicine, 1982; 12:475-92.
Pichot P. The French Approach to Psychiatric Classification. British Journal of Psychiatry, 1984; 144:113-18.
Pichot P. Die Geschichte der deutschen Psychiatrie aus der Sicht der franzözischen Psychiater. Fortschr Neurol Psychiat, 1992; 60:317-27.
Pichot P. Panique: Attaque et Trouble: Historique du Mot et des Concepts. L’Encéphale, 1996; sp 5:3-8.
Pichot P. A Century of Psychiatry. Paris: Dacosta, 1983.
September 17, 2020