Thomas A. Ban: The Ewen Cameron Story


Hector Warnes’ comment on Barry Blackwell’s comment


        I was myself "shocked" by the one sidedness, tendentious and even malicious appreciation of experiments carried out at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal during the two decades of its outstanding success as one of the best centers of learning and research.

        All the blame was directed at Donald Ewen Cameron (1901-1967) who was recruited by McGill University to Chair the Department of Psychiatry at the Allan Memorial Institute. Cameron was an experimental psychiatrist, a psychotherapist and an international leader in world psychiatry. Most of his colleagues used the tactics of "political correctness" and did nothing to stand up to the avalanche of accusations against him.

        There were other prominent researchers funded by the CIA (as Tom Ban cited) such as Jolyon West, Leo Hollister and so on. Probably the issue of who funded the research was not the principal factor for the scandal that brought the Allan Memorial Institute to its knees but rather the charges directed at Cameron himself (and himself alone) of being responsible for heading a center for the "investigation of torture and behavioral modification techniques" (a kind of mini-Guantanamo). When former President Obama wanted to close down Guantanamo he was turned down by the Congress because the torture techniques and methods used in Guantanamo could not be applied in the US according to its Constitution.

        Cameron was exposed in several articles and books as using "brute force" or "blood letting" (based on comments he made taken out of context); of the "weak and strong" types of personalities; of "taking short cuts by using gadgets"; of being a tinkerer, a rigger, an eraser of memories, an expert in brain-washing, an Avatar.

        Robert Cleghorn, who took over the Chair, was not a psychoanalyst nor a psychiatrist but, as he himself said, an endocrinologist who made important discoveries along with Theodore Sourkes. Cleghorn was quoted as saying in an interview that Cameron inspired awe and admiration but not affection or identification in his students. He was further quoted as saying that Cameron at times was intemperate and abusive. The writer made a lapsus when he quoted Cleghorn’s apparent view of Cameron as not being a "genial" personality (rather than congenial). However, the obituaries written by R.A. Cleghorn and by B.D. Silverman on the occasion of Cameron’s demise in 1967 and published at the Canadian Medical Association Journal were most laudatory.

        I had the privilege of working with Cameron during my psychiatric residency under H. Azima, a prominent psychoanalyst and researcher in the nascent psychopharmacology, anaclytic, sleep therapy and sensory isolation fields of research. Azima was married to one of the most outstanding research psychologists I ever met, Fern Azima. During my daily contacts with Cameron and with some of his private patients (who occasionally talk with me) the impression he left on me and most likely on them was of a great leader, highly intellectual and a prolific and good writer. The few patients I had the chance to share with Cameron were grateful to him and had a very positive transference. I recalled his wonderful smile and his clinical acumen. I don’t think he would deliberately hurt his patients, quite the contrary. The patients chosen for research were usually very sick and very refractory cases who failed to improve in many other institutions, including in the US.

        From my perspective the Allan Memorial Institute was not taken over by psychoanalysts; those who were prominent, besides Azima, were J. and F. Aufreiter, MacLeod, W.C.M. Scott and Eric Wittkower. The latter was a top researcher on psychosomatics already having shone in Britain; he later the founded Transcultural Psychiatry at McGill. I was privileged to have worked with Wittkower for many years as I did with Heinz Lehmann, Tom Ban, H. Azima and much later with K. Stern. Stern, and his friend Miguel Prados, were originally neuropathologists who drifted into psychoanalysis and humanism. Both were recruited by Cameron, as were R.B. Malmo, V.A. Kral, Birmingham, Saffron, Tom Ban, Davies and many others who felt at home at the Allan Memorial Institute and who never had an inkling of the raging storm about to shake its foundations.

        I doubt that Cameron "ran away" with all the data that incriminated him and hid it or destroyed it in Albany. He was not that kind of man. Hans Wolfgang Maier was the Director of the Burghölzli University Klinik at the time of Donald Ewen Cameron's visit. The visit was prompted by his master, Sir David Kennedy Henderson, who was the medical superintendent of the Gartnavel Hospital, Glasgow, and coauthor of the outstanding textbook of psychiatry (Henderson and Batchelor 1962; Henderson and Gillespie 1927). Henderson, a Scottish psychiatrist, was trained under Adolf Meyer. Lothar Kalinowski and William Sargent, experts on physical therapies in psychiatry and who wrote standard books on the subject, prescribed up to 40 of more ECT in very refractory psychotic patients. I have not done thorough research on the issue nor do I know how many patients benefited or how many were irreversibly damaged by this kind of treatment (the combination of sleep therapy, ECT and psychic driving). All these "gadgets" for which Cameron was denigrated and attacked are nowadays basic tools of neurosciences research.

        The case of José Delgado is being validated by further advances in the neurosciences and the use of electrodes, a kind of pacemaker, in Parkinson's disease; Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is another advance which sounds promising.



Henderson DK, Batchelor I.R.C. Henderson & Gillespie's Textbook of Psychiatry. Oxford UP; Ninth Edition Revised edition, 1962.

Henderson DK, Gillespie RD. A Text-book of Psychiatry for Students and Practitioners. Oxford University Press: Humphrey Milford, 1927.


January 23, 2020