William Sargant

Dr William Sargant

The author and journalist Jon Stock is writing a book about Dr William Sargant (1907-1988), the controversial psychiatrist who worked at the Royal Waterloo hospital (part of St Thomas’) from 1948, when the NHS was founded, until his retirement in 1972. He also had a private practice at 23 Harley Street and at the Priory, Roehampton. Sargant, a hugely influential figure in post-War psychiatry, considered mental illness to be a physical disease of the brain and was a lifelong champion of somatic treatments such as insulin coma therapy, ECT, leucotomy (pre-frontal lobotomy), drugs and continuous narcosis. Although he had some successes, he had no time for scientific evidence or clinical trials. His instinctive, hands-on, bedside approach was frequently reckless, fuelled by a deep-seated loathing of Freudian ‘sofa merchants’, and a desire to experiment, often doubling down on treatments if they didn’t work. Many of his patients were left deeply damaged and despairing. One patient was given no fewer than four leucotomies. Another was kept asleep for five months. Some of them died. In an interview with the Sunday Times in 1977, Sargant said: “Some people think I’m a marvellous doctor. Others think I’m the work of the Devil.”

If you were once treated by Sargant and would like your story to be finally heard, please contact Jon, either anonymously or on the record, by emailing him at Jon@williamsargant.com.

The Sleep Room, Jon’s deep dive into the life and work of Sargant, will be published in Spring 2025 by The Bridge Street Press (Little, Brown) in the UK, and by Abrams in America.