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Dr Hazel Claire Weekes MBE (1903–1990) was an Australian general practitioner and health writer; she also had an early career as a research scientist working in the field of comparative reproduction. She continues to be noted for her books on dealing with anxiety problems along with nervous breakdown.
Weekes found that many of her patients suffered from anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia, panic attacks, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She repeatedly used the phrase "nervous breakdown", rejecting the description "anxiety state", on the whole, as sounding too medical. Often she would speak generally in her writings of "Nervous Illness."
She was concerned by the severe long-term effect the disorders had on her patients' lives and by the failure of psychiatric treatments such as psychoanalysis, that many had tried. Instead, she developed a program of treatment based on ideas from cognitive and behavioral psychology. She noted, for example that patients did not suffer from these problems because they had flawed personalities or traumatic childhoods. Rather, the problems were caused by the patient having a habit of fear-avoidance, made worse, or caused, by a very responsive "sensitized" nervous system.
She described in her books the three main pitfalls that lead to Nervous Illness. They are sensitization, bewilderment and fear. She explained that so much nervous illness is no more than severe sensitization kept alive by bewilderment and fear. Dr. Weekes analyzed fear as two separate fears; the first fear and the second fear. She explained that first fear is the fear that comes reflexively, almost automatically. The patient usually immediately recoils from it, and as he/she does, he/she adds a second fear to the first. Second fear is the fear the patient adds to the first fear. Examples of second fear are "Oh, my goodness! Here it is again! I can't stand it!. It is the second fear that is keeping the first fear alive, keeping the sufferer sensitized, keeping them nervously ill.
Her program was first given to her own patients and then, as word spread of its success, to others in the form of records and cassette tapes. Eventually, she developed a self-help pack consisting of a book and cassette, with Claire Weekes guiding patients through a program. She has summarized this program as follows; facing the feared situation, accepting the feeling of panic, floating through it, and letting time pass.
Her first book, published in 1962 was called Self Help For Your Nerves (Hope and Help for Your Nerves in the US); this book has sold more than 300,000 copies, and has been translated into eight languages. Her second book, Peace from Nervous Suffering was published in 1972. Her third book, Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphopia was published in 1976. Her fourth book More Help for Your Nerves was published in 1984. Her fifth and final book The Latest Help for Your Nerves was published in 1989, just one year before her death.
In the 1970s Dr. Weekes was a regular guest on the British national TV programme Pebble Mill at One, which introduced people to her techniques. A compilation of her appearances was later issued as an audiobook. She also appeared on TV and radio worldwide. All five of her books offered self-help methods and advice. Her work was marked by the personal nature of her approach. Early in her career she had earned both a Doctorate of Science as well as an M.D.
Claire Weekes described her own battle with nervous illness in her final book where she explained how she began suffering when she was 26 years old as she was misdiagnosed with TB for which she became introverted and worried. Her suffering lasted two years, and gave her valuable insight into nervous illness. Dr. Robert L. Dupont describes in his book "The Anxiety Cure" that in 1983, he asked her if she'd ever had panic disorder. She replied "Yes, I have had what you call panic attacks. In fact, I still have them. Sometimes they wake me at night." Dr. Dupont responded by saying "He was sorry to hear that." He described Claire Weekes as looking at him in shock, for which she responded "Save your sympathy for someone else. I don't need it or want it. What you call a panic attack is merely a few normal chemicals that are temporarily out of place in my brain. It is of no significance whatsoever to me!"
Although many general practitioners may be unaware of her books, they are still in print, and her work is promoted by an organization in Australia set up by her heirs. Her early work in reproduction and placentation in reptiles is held in high regard, and is commonly cited by researchers in the field.
Early career in biology
Claire Weekes began her career as a research scientist, receiving her D Sc in 1930 from the University of Sydney; she was the first woman to attain that degree from the university. Working under Prof. Launcelot Harrison, she conducted research on reproduction and placentation in viviparous (live-bearing) lizards from 1925–1934; part of this period (1929–1931) was spent in England in the lab of J.P. Hill. Weekes' work led to eight published papers, including a major summary published in 1935 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. Weekes' work provided the basis an understanding of reptile placentation that lasted for nearly 50 years. More recent work has continued to build on the empirical and conceptual framework that she established.
Claire Weekes' published papers in reproductive biology of reptiles:
- Harrison, L., and C. H. Weekes. (1925). On the occurrence of placentation in the scincid lizard, Lygosoma entrecasteauxi. Proc. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 50: 472-486.
- Weekes, C.H. (1927a). Placentation and other phenomena in the scincid lizard Lygosoma (Hinulia) quoyi. Proc Zool Soc NSW 52:499-554.
- Weekes, C.H. (1927b). A note on reproductive phenomena in some lizards. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. 52: 25-32.
- Weekes, C.H. (1929). On placentation in reptiles. I. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. 54: 34-60.
- Weekes, C.H. (1930). On placentation in reptiles. II. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. 55: 550-576.
- Weekes, C.H. (1933). On the distribution, habitat, and reproductive habits of certain European and Australian snakes and lizards, with particular regard to their adoption of viviparity. Proc. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 58: 270-274.
- Weekes, C.H. (1934). The corpus luteum in certain oviparous and viviparous reptiles. Proc. Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 69: 380-391.
- Weekes, C.H. (1935). A review of placentation among reptiles, with particular regard to the function and evolution of the placenta. Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 2: 625-645.
- Blackburn, Daniel G. (1993) Chorioallantoic placentation in squamate reptiles: structure, function, development, and evolution. Journal of Experimental Zoology 266: 414-430.
- Blackburn, Daniel G. (1998). Chorioallantoic placentation in squamate reptiles: structure, function, development, and evolution. Journal of Experimental Zoology 266: 414-430.
- Blackburn, Daniel G. (2006). Squamate reptiles as model organisms for the evolution of viviparity. Herpetological Monographs 20: 131-146.
- Official Dr. Claire Weekes Homepage
- Australian women biography page
- Biography, publications, and audio recordings