François Lelord

Freedom for the Insane Publication date : February 1, 2000

The eighteenth-century French doctor Philippe Pinel is regarded as the founder of modern psychiatry. At a time when mental illness was generally considered to be a form of possession by the devil, he was the first to affirm that it was a disease in every way comparable to an organic disorder, and to insist on giving his patients clinical examinations. He also advocated isolating patients suffering from mental illness in a separate institution, in order to provide them with better medical care.
In this biography, François Lelord brings to life a great medical figure of the Enlightenment. He traces Pinel’s life through the upheavals of the French Revolution culminating with his nomination as head supervisor of Paris’ Hôpital de la Salpetrière — the greatest professional success of his career. He gives detailed accounts of Pinel’s work with the mentally ill and of his struggle for a more humane medicine, and recounts the doctor’s discussions with Condorcet and Thomas Jefferson. Nor does Lelord neglect the great man’s love life, which was seriously jeopardised by the Reign of Terror.
Michel Foucault was known for his virulent criticism of the modern medical practice of locking up patients — especially psychiatric patients — and trying to exercise maximum control over them. Perhaps the time has come to rediscover Pinel’s work and the major step forward that it represented.

François Lelord is a psychiatrist and the author of Contes d’un Psychiatre Ordinaire. He is the co-author, with Christophe André, of Comment Gérer les Personnalités Difficiles and L’Estime de Soi.