“Looking Back” on John Thomas Perceval

The “Looking Back” column of The Psychologist, the British Psychological Society’s flagship journal, returns this month with a description of the life of John Thomas Perceval, and what an extraordinary life it was. Son of the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated (in 1812, when John was nine years old), Perceval gradually descended into madness in his early adulthood and was committed to two different private asylums in the early 1830s. He suffered from the kinds of delusions and auditory hallucinations that, in the modern world, would be consistent with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Perceval spontaneously recovered from his condition and three years later emerged from the asylums to write a book about his experiences, and to go on to become a leading advocate for better treatment of the mad (as they were then known).

Perceval’s case was picked up in the 1960s by the famed counterculture social scientist Gregory Bateson as an example of “self-generated recovery.”

The column was authored by Hugh Gault, and the BPS has kindly made the complete column freely available online. The editor of The Psychologist, Jon Sutton, writes me that:

The Psychologist are looking for people to contribute to their new ‘Looking back’ section. The monthly feature aims to highlight the personal stories behind figures and developments throughout the history of psychology, in the UK and beyond. The editor, Dr Jon Sutton, would love to hear your ideas. Contact jon.sutton@bps.org.uk.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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