Pubdate: Sat, 07 Aug 2010
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2010 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Alasdair Steven


Shetland-Born Psychiatrist Pioneered Use Of LSD To Treat His British Patients

Born: 1 April, 1916, on Shetland.

Died: 18 June, 2010, in Ledbury, Herefordshire, aged 94.

RONALD Sandison was an acclaimed psychiatrist and early pioneer in 
the UK of the clinical use of the drug LSD. He believed that, if 
administered under strict control, it could help the recovery of 
disturbed patients. Later in his career, he abandoned using the drug 
in treatment but remained convinced of its benefits.

A fine, much respected clinician, he had a powerful intellect and a 
gracious and patient manner. He had a keen understanding for, and 
empathy with, his often troubled patients. He was a firm believer in 
encouraging patients to listen to music and relax with other forms of art.

Despite leaving the islands at an early age, Sandison always 
considered himself a Shetlander: his father's family stretched back 
to the 15th century. He returned most summers for a holiday and in 
1969 bought a rundown cottage that he enjoyed converting and 
modernising. In 1975, he accepted the post of resident psychiatrist 
on Shetland. It was a post he filled with much distinction and which 
he greatly enjoyed.

Ronald Arthur Sandison was born in the Shetland Islands but his 
father soon after his birth was transferred to London to supervise 
the department that managed ancient monuments in Britain. He attended 
King's College School, Wimbledon, and then won a scholarship to read 
medicine at King's College Hospital in London. He qualified in 1940 
and joined the RAF, but he was much involved carrying out research at 
the physiological laboratory at Farnborough.

Prior to the D-Day invasion, Sandison toured RAF stations, advising 
the pilots on breathing oxygen at high altitudes. In 1946, he was 
demobbed in the rank of wing commander.

Rather than return to medical practice or research, he decided to 
study psychiatry and qualified in 1948. Three years later, he was 
appointed a consultant at Powick Hospital in Worcester. It was a huge 
establishment - with up to 1,000 patients - and in a sorry state. 
"The amenities were bleak in the extreme," he later wrote. The rooms 
were overcrowded and the treatment sadly out of date. By dint of his 
own hard work and the respect he enjoyed from his colleagues, the 
hospital gained an international reputation for its care and modern 
methods of treatment. Dr Sandison also founded a branch of the 
Samaritans in Worcester.

In 1952, Sandison had visited Switzerland, where colleagues were 
researching the clinical uses of LSD. He brought back to Powick some 
LSD which he administered to selected patients. The doses he gave 
were small and were principally used to explore the patients' 
subconscious - they were only given to patients where other treatment 
and counselling had failed.

It was, nonetheless, a controversial move and was the subject of an 
investigative and somewhat critical programme on the BBC.

His pioneering work was to be continued at Powick, but starting in 
1964, Sandison worked for a decade in Southampton University, where 
he developed group therapy meetings for schizophrenics and was 
involved in the creation of the university's medical school.

In 1975, Sandison returned to work in Shetland. He had had lengthy 
discussions with the local health board, arguing that it was more 
practical (and cheaper) to set up a clinic with him in charge rather 
than fly their psychiatric patients down to Aberdeen for treatment. 
His work on Shetland branched out to assisting many areas of the 
community. Sandison helped his patients through many difficult 
periods in their lives and founded centres for those with alcohol 
problems and advised young people on family panning.

His contribution to advancing health care in his professional years 
on Shetland was considerable and he became a popular and respected 
member of the community.

Sandison spent the last years of his professional career in London 
working on various projects. He established a successful private 
practice at St Luke's Hospital and acted as consultant to the Bishop 
of London and his clergy. He retired to Hertfordshire in 1992.

Malcolm Pines, in his introduction to Sandison's autobiography (A 
Century of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Group Analysis: a Search for 
Integration), extolled his career.

"Ronnie has drawn on his life experience with his excellent memory 
and looks over his more than half century of experience in psychiatry 
and psychotherapy. He draws us into the world as he found it, and 
changed it," he wrote.

Sandison, a man of confirmed Christian faith, was a keen sailor and 
walker. He was thrice married. With his first wife, Evelyn Oppen, he 
had two sons That and his second marriage in 1965, to Margaret 
Godfrey, ended in divorce. In 1982, he married Beth Almond, who survives him.
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