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Wednesday, 01.12.2021

Thomas A. Ban: The Ewen Cameron Story

Thomas A. Ban: Additional Information*

William E. Bunney’s interview of Thomas A. Ban


WB: What did you do after your residency?

TB: My residency was cut short because I was promoted from the first to fourth year and in 1959, I became the junior member of Cameron’s research team on “psychic driving.” Ewen Cameron was chairman of psychiatry at McGill. He was one of the Nuremberg-psychiatrists and a past president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

WB: Would you like to say something about the research?

TB: The idea behind Cameron’s research was that by wiping out all memories one would also wipe out pathological patterns in the brain, and one might be able to rebuild the psyche anew. We also explored the possibility that it might be sufficient just to disorganize memories. For wiping out memories we used regressive ECT, which Cameron referred to as “de-patterning”; for disorganizing memories, we used psychomimetic drugs and sensory isolation, and for rebuilding, repetition of verbal signal therapy which he referred to as “psychic driving.” As the junior member of the team I had to do whatever needed to be done, but my specific responsibility was the monitoring of changes in psychophysiological measures and CR variables. Today, what we did, might sound rather unsophisticated but it corresponded with the kind of research people did in those years. In our “sleep room” for example, where most of the research was done, in one bed a patient was treated by our team with regressive ECT, and in the next bed a patient was treated with “anaclitic therapy” by another research team in which grown-ups were mothered like babies. For me, still pretty much a foreigner in this new world, both treatments were rather strange, but the rational for our experiment was at least as sound as the treatment used by the psychoanalytic group. In fact, we learned from our experiments that some patients with schizophrenia were not affected by sensory isolation, and also that wiped out obsessive-compulsive patterns re-emerge much sooner than memory returns. I left the team before it became public that the grant supporting our project came from the Society for Investigation of Human Ecology, a cover organization for the CIA. Cameron was vilified by the press, resigned and died shortly after, while mountain climbing. It was never completely clear whether he knew some of the money was from the CIA. I certainly did not.  But even if he had known, I don’t think he would have cared. Funds from the CIA were just as good as funds from anywhere else. He was interested in what he was doing and dedicated to help his patients. 


*Extracted from William E. Bunney’s interview of Thomas A. Ban in Boca Raton, FL, December 10, 2007, at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. The edited transcript of the interview was published in Thomas A. Ban, editor. An Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology. The First Fifty Years. Peer Interviews. Volume 9 - Update (Blackwell B, editor). Brentwood: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; 2011, pp. 19 -35.


December 19, 2019