A blogpost by Phd student Sarah Phelan
Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907-1978) was first Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow (1948-1973) and consultant psychiatrist at a number of Glasgow hospitals. About a year ago, I tentatively began my investigation into Rodger’s personal papers held by Glasgow University Archives as part of a PhD project which aims to reconstruct Rodger’s somewhat overlooked contribution to the field of twentieth century psychiatry. It is perhaps surprising that this interesting, once prominent figure has been relatively neglected within the history of Scottish psychiatry: his career encompassed- and to a degree shaped- a period of significant change in psychiatric practice as traditional “asylum-based” psychiatry was being replaced by general hospital- and community- based psychiatry.
Amongst the rich variety of material in Rodger’s archive are his lectures and addresses to his students as well as non-academic audiences, journal articles and patient case notes. Together these form an intriguing record of this forgotten psychiatrist’s eclectic ideas, practices and concerns. My initial encounter with Rodger’s papers has concentrated upon his “Lectures and Addresses”, a substantial section of his archive composed largely of typescript drafts of lectures supplemented with corrections in Rodger’s distinctive, hurried hand. The first document in this section is Rodger’s opening lecture to his undergraduate class, an event he acknowledged as an “historical occasion” as the “the first time a Professor of Psychological Medicine has given a lecture to under-graduates of this University”. This section offers plentiful evidence of Rodger’s wide-ranging and perhaps seemingly incompatible interests including psychoanalysis, the use of tranquillisers and even a consideration of the merits of hypnosis. In a sense Rodger’s own comments on the diversity of psychiatric approaches would seem to anticipate this initially confusing impression of material from his career. In an article from 1957 titled “The Other Man’s Point of View”, published in The British Journal of Medical Psychology, he questioned “Why we hold a particular point of view and attach our loyalties to one group rather than another is not clear to any one of us . . .”. However, he followed this with an acknowledgement of the difficulties which embracing eclecticism brings and wrote, “we are in a dilemma; to be entirely open to new impressions and other points of view is to invite the terror of chaos . . .”.
In the same article, Rodger remarked astutely that “Differences are perhaps more in ourselves than in the facts we choose to study”, an insight which may have stemmed from his own experiences. Rodger’s earlier career involved a spell of military service during the Second World War where he became a worldwide expert in the fields of officer selection and personnel distribution. In his writings, Rodger depicted his own and other military psychiatrists’ wartime experiences as exerting a formative influence on their civilian work after the war. In a draft paper, he discussed how the unique manner in which psychiatry had been employed by the military had produced “a special body of knowledge”, accompanied by “a general change in the psychiatric point of view which will affect civil psychiatry in the future”. In a number of lectures, Rodger articulated the ways in which these new insights were applied after the war which included examining the social dimension of patients’ illness, fostering better relations between staff and patients, re-structuring psychiatric care upon a more egalitarian model as well as the introduction of community mental health services.
Although there is much material I have yet to explore in Rodger’s papers, it would seem that his very personal account of the pivotal events, challenges and characters which defined his time as a military psychiatrist may be one of the most compelling narratives to emerge from his archive. This story, embedded within the broader context of the relationship between the military and psychiatry, is something I hope to investigate further in the months ahead.
Rodger, T. Ferguson. “Introductory Lecture on the History and Background in Psychological Medicine”. [c.1949]. Lecture Notes. TS. DC081/4/1/1/1. Papers of Thomas Ferguson Rodger, University of Glasgow Archives, Glasgow, Scotland.
“New Points of View Arising from Experience as an Army Psychiatrist.” . Draft Paper. TS. DC081/3/1/2/2. Papers of Thomas Ferguson Rodger. University of Archives, Glasgow, Scotland.
“The Other Man’s Point of View”. British Journal of Medical Psychology 30.1 (1957): 3-8. Print.
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