Eric Ledermann remained in good health until 7th May 2005 when he died suddenly and peacefully. I wrote the following obituary for him and a slightly shortened version of it appeared in The Times on June 15, vcialis 40mg 2005. (B.K.)


(16 May 1908 – 7 May 2005) :

Pioneer of Holistic Medicine and True Self Psychotherapy

Medical approaches that differ from the orthodox, case conventional scientific approach have been described as ‘alternative’, ‘complementary’ and ‘fringe’ as well as ‘holistic’. Orthodox medicine chooses to make objective scientific diagnoses and use specific treatments for specific diseases. These treatments have been verified by having gone through the industry standard trial of fire, the clinical double blind crossover trial. Alternative medicine may often eschew such trials claiming they are unsuitable for their particular approach which is less inclined to separate body and mind. In essence this is is a philosophical issue but few doctors or alternative practitioners have studied philosophy of science. In this respect, Dr. Eric Karl Ledermann was very different.

The son of Jewish parents, his father a respected Berlin general practitioner, Ledermann was born in 1908. He went through a classical education culminating in his qualification as a doctor at the University of Freiburg. Even as a medical student he expressed an interest in vitalism – something he was strongly advised to keep quiet about. He also once attended a lecture by the psychoanalyst, Alfred Adler who influenced his early ideas about psychiatry. As a young doctor working in a paediatric hospital he encountered the Nazis for the first time. He inadvertently picked up a telephone directory only to see a small black book beneath it. The Nazi officer who owned the book wanted to arrest him but was dissuaded from doing so by Ledermann’s non-Jewish consultant, a man he later credited for saving his life. This incident proved the catalyst for him to leave Germany for good never to return. He finally managed to persuade the rest of his family to leave in 1939 and the Ledermann family thus avoided the worst of the Holocaust.

A fellow medical student had emigrated to Scotland and invited the young Ledermann to join him in Edinburgh. He requalified as a doctor in Edinburgh and was then drawn to study homeopathy at the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. Around this time Ledermann had read Smuts’s Holism and Evolution. This was the first usage of the word ‘holism’ and he immediately recognised its significance in medicine. Smuts applied the term to the universe but Ledermann, a student of Kant, would see holism as mainly in the mind. His attraction to homeopathy was clearly due to homeopathic medicines being chosen to suit the ‘whole’ of a patient as well as his disease. He became a respected fellow and teacher of the Faculty of Homeopathy and its most long serving member. He also studied acupuncture and naturopathy including the therapeutic effects of fasting and although his early books were on treating the body holistically with these modalities, his great loves in medicine would become psychiatry, philosophy and ethics.

Dr. Ledermann believed that every doctor needed to have an ethical code by which to practise medicine on a daily basis. Doctors who eschewed philosophy as being unnecessary in medicine, he described as practising medicine according to a philosophy of ‘naïve realism’. He believed that all doctors needed to be skilled to some degree in psychiatry as much of the suffering encountered in all areas of medicine was psychogenic in origin. He strived tirelessly to provide the profession with a straightforward approach to patients that was holistic in principle and practicable in everyday medicine. The development of his particular philosophy in medicine was certainly influenced by Kant, but the existential psychiatrist and philosopher, Karl Jaspers was a big influence. He respected many of Freud’s views but in the end thought that Freud (like everyone before and after him) had been bound to fail in their quest to create a ‘science of the mind’.

Ledermann was able to describe his approach, which he termed True Self Psychotherapy, simply: ‘The aim of psychotherapy is to make the unconscious conscience of the patient conscious’. That people own such a conscience was axiomatic to his philosophy although he admitted that this conscience was absent in psychopaths and that psychotic people could be limited in their ability to access their conscience. In other words the answers to people’s problems was already within them. It was the job of a psychotherapist to help them get in touch with their conscience and then have the courage to act accordingly. In this way he saw neurosis mainly as a moral issue. In the 1960’s he sometimes used LSD legally to help patients who had become ‘stuck’ in therapy but gave it up when the drug became classified. Instead he used deep relaxation techniques such as Autogenic Therapy and reverie to achieve the same purpose.

He wrote several books on an holistic approach to physical problems (Good Health through Natural Therapy and Whole Person Medicine) but his major works in which he espoused his unique contribution to medicine were Philosophy and Medicine (1970) and Existential Neurosis. His website, lists his many publications. He went on to describe his uniquely optimistic and eminently practicable form of existential psychotherapy in Existential Neurosis (1973) and in a number of other books and journal articles.

Ledermann, never a man for trivialities has been described as never ‘having a petty thought in his head’. Unlike many, he rigorously applied his philosophy in his personal life. A lifelong vegetarian he exercised regularly, struggled with ethical issues on a daily basis and was a rock of stability to his many patients. At the time of his death he was still seeing a few patients, reading journals and constantly concerned about the state of medicine in our society. In his nineties he received an honorary degree in traditional Chinese medicine.

His marriage to his beloved Marjorie lasted until they were both in their 90s. He is survived by a son and daughter.

Eric Karl Ledermann

Born: Berlin 16/5/1908
Died: London 7/5/2005