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William Walters Sargant (April 24, 1907 - August 27, 1988), was a British psychiatrist who is now famous for his work with shell-shocked servicemen during World War Two, and later for his publication of a book entitled Battle for the Mind in which he discusses the nature of the process by which our minds are subject to influence by others. While this book is often referred to as a work on 'brainwashing', and indeed it is subtitled a Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing, Sergant emphasises that his aim is to elucidate the processes involved rather than advocate uses. In the book he refers particularly to religious phenomena and in particular Christian methodism, emphasising the apparent need for those who would change people's minds to first excite them, as did the founder of methodism, John Wesley. However, there was another side to him that was heavily involved to the end of his career with the Intelligence Services, including the CIA Project MKULTRA.


Trained at the Maudsley Hospital, South London. Sargant established a unit at Belmont Hospital during World War Two for the treatment of shell-shocked servicemen. There, along with Eliot Slater, he was a pioneer and advocate of physical methods of treatment in psychiatry such as ECT, continuous narcosis, insulin coma therapy and psychosurgery. His enthusiasm for such methods grew partly out of contempt for psychoanalysis, which was hugely popular among British psychiatrists between the wars. As an exponent of biological psychiatry, he regarded psychoanalysis as worse than useless in treating severe mental illness.

Founder and Director of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas' Hospital in London, where he established a laboratory for mind control experiments.[dubious] He was also a consultant to the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI5]]/[[MI6). In 1953 he associated with Frank Olson, Deputy Acting Head of Special Operations for the CIA, investigating the use of mind-bending drugs at the Biological Warfare Centre at Porton Down.[1]

In 1944 he collaborated with Slater in writing An Introduction to Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry, a textbook on biological psychiatry that included lobotomy and shock therapy and remained in print for three decades.

William Sargant was a pioneer in methods of placing false memories into patients. He attested at the 1977 U.S. Senate hearing, "that the therapist should deliberately distort the facts of the patient's life-experience to achieve heightened emotional response and abreaction. In the drunken state of narcoanalysis patients are prone to accept the therapist's false constructions."

In 1957 William Sargant published one of the first books on the psychology of brainwashing, Battle for the Mind.

Mind Control

Sargant, Ewen Cameron and MKULTRA

Sargant and Dr Ewen Cameron of Project MKULTRA notoriety, were friends and colleagues who shared and exchanged views and information on brainwashing and de-patterning techniques and their mutual researches in this area. Both men had extensive CIA and British Secret Intelligence Service connections.[2]

The aim of Cameron, Sargant and the CIA’s researches was to find a way to obliterate the memories of an allied spy ('de-patterning') and implant false memories at a deep level so that if that spy was captured in his adoptive country, he would be incapable under duress or even torture of revealing his true American/British allegiance. He would only be able to reveal the falsely implanted memories that supported his assumed persona. This concept became termed 'The Manchurian Candidate' after the novel. The extensive use of 'heroic' doses of ECT combined with Deep Sleep Treatment (narcosis), anti-depressants, tape-loops, insulin coma therapy, and other drugs in this context, was designed to induce catastrophic memory loss which would then supposedly be replaced with false memories and ideas (via tape loops, hypnosis, LSD or conversations while the person was drugged).

The CIA eventually became disillusioned with the research, saying it produced only 'amnesiacs and vegetables', but not until Cameron and Sargant between them had destroyed the health, memories and lives of countless patients.[3]

The author and psychiatrist Harvey Weinstein has established a direct link between Sargant's research on brainwashing and political conversion, and the research aspect of Cameron's work for MKULTRA. Cameron wrote in a paper on 'The Transition Neurosis': 'Sargant has described what little we know of the dynamics of these political and religious conversions and has attempted to duplicate them but from what we gather, with somewhat limited success. He used depleting emetics. We have explored this procedure in one case, using sleeplessness, disinhibiting agents, and hypnosis.'[4]

Cameron often sought Sargant's advice and on one occasion Sargant sent Cameron a note saying 'Whatever you manage in this field, I thought of it first.' [5]

In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs, as well as electroconvulsive therapy at 30 to 40 times the normal power. His "driving" experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced coma for months on end (up to three in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were typically carried out on patients who had entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and post-partum depression, many of whom suffered permanently from his actions.

Sargant's Covert Research at St. Thomas'

In St. Thomas' Hospital Sargant had a 'Sleep Room' modelled on the one Cameron had created at the Allan Memorial Institute for the MKULTRA programme. Here he treated many British citizens – mainly women - over the years, experimenting usually without their consent (see below) using ECT combined with Deep Sleep Treatment (narcosis), drugs, insulin coma therapy and tape loops – the same techniques as Cameron employed in Canada.[6]

One of those who experienced Sargants treatment was Anne White, later a Clinical Professor of Medicine and an Examiner for the Medical Council of Canada. She has stated that she believes 'scores of English patients were involved in illegal, unethical and dangerous experiments for which they almost certainly never gave their consent. Sargant was one of the dominant figures in psychiatry in his day, the 1970s. No one would dare to challenge him'. She was 'incarcerated in the 'Sleep Room' and subjected to horrendous experimental treatments for which I signed no consent forms. Patients were kept in a drug-induced sleep. This was part of what Sargant called 'depatterning'. We were only briefly awoken to receive electroshocks. Sargant would wheel into the 'Sleep Room' a portable electroshock machine. The normal procedure would have been to deliver a single 110 volt shock. Sargant used shocks 20 to 40 times more intense, two or three times daily, with the power turned up to 150 volts. Some patients received multiple electro shocks over a period of 65 days. We were all petrified by the 'Sleep Room'. I was put to sleep for long periods and received all kinds of drugs. I was in no condition to question him. He was all-powerful.' Only later, when she had qualified to become a doctor, 'did I realise I had been subjected to brain-washing. I discovered the drugs and techniques Sargant used on me, and many other patients, were designed as part of secret joint British and US governments' experiments to ultimately create an assassin. ... My whole experience was a nightmare. I was used as an experimental tool to try and create the ultimate weapon – an assassin.' [7]

In direct parallel with Cameron's techniques, Sargant used tape loops played through a recorder placed under the patient’s pillow to implant false memories or ideas. Leonard Rubenstein, a technician who had created the tape loops for Cameron was flown to England to advise Sargant on how the tape loops were made.[8]

Possibly going even further than Cameron, both at Belmont Hospital in Surrey and St.Thomas' in London, Sargant subjected patients to up to three months' combined ECT, deep sleep treatment, insulin coma therapy and drugs. He said in a talk delivered in Leeds: 'For several years past we have been treating severe resistant depression with long periods of sleep treatment. We can now keep patients asleep or very drowsy for up to 3 months if necessary. During sleep treatment we also give them ECT and anti-depressant drugs'.[9]

Sargant routinely advocated and practised ways of circumventing the whole issue of consent to treatment, in direct violation of The Nuremberg Code. Drawn up after World War II in an attempt to prevent any repetition of the kind of terrible experimentation performed by Nazi doctors on various ethnic groupings, prisoners of war or disabled people they deemed worthless, the Nuremberg Code protects the rights of those subject to medical experiments. The most important point is voluntary consent, without any element of 'force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion'. There should be made known 'the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonably to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment. The duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment.' Every effort should be made to protect the participant against 'even remote possibilities of injury, disability or death,' and '…the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems…impossible.'[10]

Sargent, by contrast, used enforced narcosis (sleep treatment) to obliterate a patient’s ability to refuse ECT. He wrote in his standard textbook An Introduction to Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry: 'Many patients unable to tolerate a long course of ECT, can do so when anxiety is relieved by narcosis ... What is so valuable is that they generally have no memory about the actual length of the treatment or the numbers of ECT used ... After 3 or 4 treatments they may ask for ECT to be discontinued because of an increasing dread of further treatments. Combining sleep with ECT avoids this ...'. Sargant also advocated increasing the frequency of ECT sessions for those he describes as 'resistant, obsessional patients' in order to produce 'therapeutic confusion' and so remove their power of refusal. In addition he states: 'All sorts of treatment can be given while the patient is kept sleeping, including a variety of drugs and ECT [which] together generally induce considerable memory loss for the period under narcosis. As a rule the patient does not know how long he has been asleep, or what treatment, even including ECT, he has been given. Under sleep ... one can now give many kinds of physical treatment, necessary, but often not easily tolerated. We may be seeing here a new exciting beginning in psychiatry and the possibility of a treatment era such as followed the introduction of anaesthesia in surgery'.[11]

Sargant constantly underplayed in public the very damaging effects of these treatments on his patients' memories. However John Marks found that Cameron himself detailed the stages of memory loss resulting from such 'de-patterning' techniques, saying that 'his typical de-patterning patient – usually a woman – moved through three distinct stages. In the first, the subject lost much of her memory. Yet she still knew where she was, why she was there, and who the people were who treated her. In the second phase, she lost her 'space-time image,' but still wanted to remember. In fact not being able to answer questions like, 'Where am I?' and 'How did I get here?' caused her considerable anxiety. In the third stage, all that anxiety disappeared. Cameron described the state as 'an extremely interesting constriction of the range of recollections which one ordinarily brings in to modify and enrich one’s statements. Hence, what the patient talks about are only his sensationsof the moment and he talks about them almost exclusively in highly concrete terms. His remarks are entirely uninfluenced by previous recollections – nor are they governed in any way by his forward anticipations. He lives in the immediate present. All schizophrenic symptoms have disappeared . There is complete amnesia for all events in his life.'[12]

When Sargant left St.Thomas' Hospital he, like Cameron when he left the Allen Memorial Institute, took with him all the case notes of those who had received this intensive treatment. Again like Cameron, on enquiry the notes were subsequently found to have disappeared after his death.[13]


"...Jesus Christ might simply have returned to his carpentry following the use of modern [psychiatric] treatments." - William Sargant

Books written by William Sargant

  • Battle for the Mind: The Mechanics of Indoctrination, Brainwashing & Thought Control by William Sargant, Pan Books, 1957
  • Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing , by William Sargant, Malor Books, 1997, ISBN 1-883536-06-5
  • Mind Possessed, The : A Physiology of Possession, Mysticism, and Faith Healing, 1975, ISBN 0-14-004034-X
  • The Unquiet Mind - an autobiography, by William Sargant 1967 Heinemann ISBN 0-434-67150-9
  • An Introduction to Somatic Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry, by William Sargant and Eliot Slater, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1946
  • An Introduction to Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry, by William Sargant and Eliot Slater, Edinburgh : E&S Livingstone, 1944 [1st ed.]
  • An Introduction to Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry, by William Sargant, Eliot Slater and Desmond Kelly, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1972 5th edn ISBN 0-443-00868-X



  2. Anne Collins, In the Sleep Room (Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1988, ISBN 0-88619-198-X), p. 39, pp. 42-3, p. 133.
  3. John Marks, The Search for The Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (New York, W.W. Norton, 1979, ISBN 0-393-30794-8); Gordon Thomas, Journey Into Madness (London: Bantam Press, 1988, ISBN 0-593-011-42-2); Gordon Thomas, Mindfield (www. –
  4. Harvey Weinstein, A Father, A Son and the CIA (Toronto, James Lorimer & Co., 1988, ISBN 1-55028-116-X), p. 138.
  5. Gordon Thomas, Journey Into Madness (London: Bantam Press, 1988, ISBN 0-593-011-42-2), pp. 189-190.
  6. Gordon Thomas, Mindfield (www. –, pp. 273-274.
  7. http//
  8. Gordon Thomas, Mindfield (www. –, pp. 273-274.
  9. William Sargant, Paper to the Samaritans, 11 September 1971.
  11. William Sargant and Eliot Slater assisted by Desmond Kelly, An Introduction to Physical Methods of Treatment in Psychiatry (Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1972), pp. 89-96.
  12. John Marks, The Search for The Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (New York, W.W. Norton, 1979, ISBN 0-393-30794-8), p. 144.
  13. Gordon Thomas, Mindfield (www. –, pp. 276.

See also

External links

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