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Lewis Ralph Yealland (1884-1954)

Lewis Yealland was born in 1884 in Canada. He qualified in 1912 from the University of Western Ontario, and came to Britain to practise medicine during the First World War. He was at the forefront of experimental techniques to treat shell shock.

Shell shock was a medical term first used during the First World War to describe a set of physical and psychological symptoms, including mental breakdown, in soldiers. Battles could be incredibly noisy and shell shock was originally believed to be a reaction to the noise of new heavy artillery shells. However, it quickly became clear that there were a broad range of events that could trigger 'shell shock', which was a psychological reaction to the extreme stresses of war.

There were different ideas about how shell-shocked soldiers should be treated. Yealland, a Canadian who worked in London at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, practised a form of therapy based on punishment. He did not consider shell shock an illness, and so thought the men who showed symptoms were just too frightened to go into battle. He believed shell shock was down to a lack of discipline or sense of duty. This belief shaped his treatments. Most of the time he told the men that they should not be cowards, using the technique of autosuggestion. In a few cases of severe symptoms he performed therapy with electric shocks.

In Pat Barker’s trilogy of novels Regeneration, Yealland is shown as an unsympathetic man who tortures a shell-shocked man who could not speak. He administers a number of electric shocks while telling the man he wants him to be a hero and get better. Yealland wrote a book about his methods, but they were not widely used and other types of therapy such as the ‘talking cure’ practised by William Rivers were more popular.

Bibliography

J M W Binneveld, From Shell Shock to Combat Stress: A Comparative History of Military Psychiatry (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1997)

W Holden, Shell Shock: The Psychological Impact of War (London: Channel Four Books, 1998)

P Barker, Regeneration (London: Penguin, 2008)

A Richards, The Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into Shell-shock: Featuring a New Historical Essay on Shell Shock (London: Imperial War Museum, 2004)

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