Ronald A. Sandison

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ronald Sandison
Ronald Arthur Sandison

(1916-04-01)1 April 1916
Shetland, Scotland
Died18 June 2010(2010-06-18) (aged 94)
Alma materKing's College Hospital
Scientific career
FieldsPsychotherapy, Psychiatry

Ronald Arthur Sandison (1 April 1916 – 18 June 2010) was a British psychiatrist and psychotherapist who was a well-known early pioneer in Britain of the clinical use of LSD in psychiatry. Although he later abandoned use of the drug in treatments, he remained convinced of its benefits to the end of his life.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Ronald Sandison was born in Shetland, Scotland, the son of Arthur Sandison, a civil servant responsible for ancient monuments in London.

Sandison attended King's College School, Wimbledon and won a scholarship to study Medicine at King's College Hospital in London. He qualified in 1940 with excellent results and the following year joined the RAF. Based at the physiological laboratory of the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine at Farnborough, he studied the medical problems of flight, including the effects of oxygen deficiency and visual aspects of night flying. He was demobbed in 1946, in the rank of Wing Commander, having been mentioned in despatches.[1]

Warlingham and Powick[edit]

Having lost his enthusiasm for general medicine, Sandison joined the staff of Warlingham Park Hospital, Surrey, as a trainee and qualified with a diploma in Psychological Medicine in 1948. He was offered his first post as a consultant in 1951, aged only 35, at Powick Hospital near Worcester. The hospital, which he described as "medieval", was overcrowded and run-down. The 1000 patients were subjected to electric shock treatment, insulin shock therapy and lobotomies.

Sandison wrote about his early years at Powick:

...the amenities were bleak in the extreme compared with Warlingham. The hospital had been built in 1852 for 200 patients... Arthur (Spencer) and I were the only consultants, and two assistant doctors completed the staff. There were nearly 1,000 patients, 400 of whom were living in the four large wards of the 'annexe' built in the 1890s. I discovered that the heating system was defunct, many of the internal telephones did not work, and the hospital was deeply impoverished in every department. This state of affairs had been allowed to develop by the previous medical superintendent, Dr Fenton... who had spent 43 years at Powick. He practised the utmost economy and Powick became the cheapest hospital in the country... After discussion and consultation with my colleagues at Powick, and with the professor of Psychiatry in Birmingham, I undertook the clinical use of LSD at Powick Hospital towards the end of 1952.:[2]

Sandison introduced psychotherapy as well as treatments involving art and music. The hospital became a centre of clinical excellence with an international reputation. Sandison also established a branch of Samaritans in the nearby city of Worcester.

In 1952 Sandison visited Switzerland, where he was introduced to the clinical use of lysergic acid diethylamide, which had been synthesised by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938. Sandison met Hofmann[3] and brought back a supply of the drug to use at Powick as a tool in psychotherapy. Over the next 12 years Sandison treated thousands of patients with LSD, principally those whose treatment for neurosis or depression had hitherto failed.

In 1954, with two of his colleagues, Sandison published a paper describing the medical breakthroughs he had made with a majority of his patients. The project aroused world-wide interest and in 1955 a purpose-built LSD unit was established at Powick. Within a few years, however, the widespread abuse of LSD as a recreational drug led to its ban and a corresponding loss of scientific credibility. In 2002 the NHS agreed to pay £195,000, in an out of court settlement, to 43 former psychiatric patients who were treated with LSD between 1950 and 1970.[4] Sandison did not use LSD again once he had moved from Powick, but remained convinced of the benefits of its use in a clinical setting.

Later work[edit]

Between 1964 and 1975 Sandison worked at the Wessex School of Psychiatry at Knowle Hospital near Fareham in Hampshire,[2] developing group therapy for the treatment of schizophrenic patients and helping to build the new medical school at Southampton University.

Despite leaving Shetland at an early age, Sandison always considered himself a Shetlander, with his father's ancestry reaching back to the 15th century. In 1968 he bought a run-down cottage in the isles that he modernised and in 1975 he accepted the post of resident psychiatrist in Lerwick. His contribution to advancing health care in his professional years in Shetland was considerable and he became a popular and respected member of the community.[5]

Sandison spent the last years of his professional career in London and established a successful private practice at St Luke's Hospital. A man of confirmed Christian faith, Sandison was also a keen sailor and walker.

Sandison was a member of the scientific advisory board of the Beckley Foundation, established in 1998 to investigate consciousness and its altered states and to research into public policy on drugs.[1] He was also active in the Institute of Group Analysis and became consultant to the London Pastoral Support Group, established by the Bishop of London for his clergy. Throughout his career Sandison had promoted links between the Churches and psychiatric centres and had been involved with two Cistercian monasteries – one at Portglenone near Belfast and one on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire.


Sandison was married three times. His first wife, Evelyn Oppen, had been a school friend. They had two sons. In 1965 he married Margaret Godfrey, but this marriage also ended in divorce. In 1982 he married Beth Almond, with whom he moved on his retirement in 1992, to Ledbury in Herefordshire and who survives him.


Sandison was the author of numerous articles and books, including his autobiography – A Century of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Group Analysis: A Search for Integration – in which he recounts his career as a psychiatrist, combined with a personal account of his own emotional development and dreams.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Obituary of Ronald Sandison at
  2. ^ a b c Sandison, Ronald (2001). A Century of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Group Analysis. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd. pp. 31–33. ISBN 978-1-85302-869-4.
  3. ^ Interview with Dr Ronald Sandison. Source Material for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control D.Streatfeild. ISBN 0-340-83161-8
  4. ^ Dyer, Clare (2 March 2002). "NHS settles claim of patients treated with LSD". BMJ. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
  5. ^ Obituary: Dr Ronald Sandison at, 7 August 2010, by Alasdair Steven

External links[edit]