Psychic driving

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Psychic driving was a psychiatric procedure of the 1950s and 1960s in which patients were subjected to a continuously repeated audio message on a looped tape to alter their behaviour. In psychic driving, patients were often exposed to hundreds of thousands of repetitions of a single statement over the course of their treatment. They were also concurrently administered muscular paralytic drugs such as curare to subdue them for the purposes of exposure to the looped message(s). The procedure was pioneered by Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, and used and funded by the CIA's Project MKUltra program in Canada.

Psychiatry and MKUltra[edit]

The psychic driving procedure was a chronological precursor to Cameron's depatterning, the latter involving massive doses of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) combined with similarly large doses of psychedelic drugs (such as LSD). The intent was to break down the subject's personality—theoretically psychic driving could then be used with some efficacy in establishing a new personality.[1] In Cameron's depatterning, the ECT would often continue to be administered despite the manifestation of convulsive fits, which were consensually considered to be contraindications to normal and safe ECT procedure. Such biologically and psychologically devastating procedures, adopted internationally by the psychiatric establishment, were largely abolished by the time the CIA was brought before a Senate Hearing (1977)[2] for its involvement and funding of Cameron's experimental activities—as part of the MKULTRA program.[3] The topic of Cameron's psychic driving is dealt with in some detail in the docudrama entitled The Sleep Room (1998) directed by Anne Wheeler.[4]

Other uses[edit]

Similar techniques are alleged to have been used in the kidnapping and death of CIA operative William Francis Buckley by Aziz al-Abub, a medical doctor from Beirut who was seen as epitomizing medical torture. Aziz al-Abub, also known as Ibrahim al-Nadhir, was known for using his medical training to refine torture techniques. His techniques were shown to be closely connected to the CIA-developed torture techniques.[5] As with the CIA, he used drugs to make it easier to handle those he tortured, carefully determined how long to keep a prisoner hooded and when to isolate them and other techniques seen as medical torture.

In popular culture[edit]

Initially, in the hit NBC TV series Hannibal, Dr. Chilton uses psychic driving on a patient of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Dr. Abel Gideon (played by Eddie Izzard), to convince him that he is the main antagonist of the series, the Chesapeake Ripper. Later in the series, psychic driving is alluded to by the main character Dr. Hannibal Lecter as a means to convince FBI profiler Will Graham that he has committed a string of brutal murders during a bout of encephalitis, to throw him off the trail and keep himself safe. Dr. Lecter uses psychic driving by purposely inducing trance-like states during a therapy session, using Will Graham's encephalitis, then reinforcing his delusions that he has killed during episodes of lost time where he cannot remember his own actions.[6]

See also[edit]


  • Anne Collins (2002-06-12). In The Sleep Room: The Story Of The CIA Brainwashing Experiments In Canada. Key Porter Books. ISBN 1-55013-932-0.
  • Gordon Thomas (1988-08-01). Journey into Madness: Medical Torture and the Mind Controllers. Bantam Press. ISBN 0593011422.


  1. ^ Cameron DE, Lohrenz JG, Handcock KA (April 1962). "The depatterning treatment of schizophrenia". Compr Psychiatry. 3 (2): 65–76. doi:10.1016/S0010-440X(62)80015-7. PMID 13875932.
  2. ^ Transcript of the 1977 Senate Hearing can be found here Archived 2011-05-01 at the Wayback Machine, here or here[dead link]
  3. ^ For information on the 1977 Court Action against the CIA see: Rauh Jr JL, Turner JC (1990). "Anatomy of A Public Interest Case Against the CIA". Hamline Journal of Public Law & Policy. 11: 307.
  4. ^ The Sleep Room at IMDb
  5. ^ Gordon Thomas (1988-08-01). Journey into Madness: Medical Torture and the Mind Controllers. Bantam Press. ISBN 0593011422.
  6. ^ Gardner, Colin (2017-04-01). Deleuze and the Animal. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9781474422765.