Eric Karl Ledermann16 May 1908–7 May 2005
29 December 2017 (online)
With the death of Eric Ledermann, the Faculty of Homoeopathy as well as medicine and psychiatry have lost one of its most dedicated sons.
For seven decades Dr. Ledermann gave his life and considerable intellectual prowess to creating a new kind of doctor—an holistic physician for both physical and psychological problems.
Eric Karl Ledermann was born in 1908 to Jewish parents in Berlin. His father was a respected general practitioner and the young Eric followed in his footsteps by studying medicine at the University of Freiburg. As a medical student he showed an early interest in ‘vitalism’ but was strongly advised to keep such interests to himself. In his youth in Berlin, he attended a lecture by the psychoanalyst, Alfred Adler (father of Individual Psychology) and Adler's work was to have a big influence on his future career.
In the early 30s he watched the rise of the Nazis with horror. While working as a houseman in a paediatric hospital, his unit was visited by a number of Nazi officers. He inadvertently touched the notebook of one of them who immediately tried to arrest him. His consultant probably saved his life by dissuading the man from doing this, but Ledermann knew that his days in Germany were over. He made immediate plans to join a fellow student who had emigrated to Scotland and in 1933 he moved to Edinburgh where he learned English and requalified in medicine. He managed to save his family from the Holocaust by getting them out of Berlin in 1939 and never returned to the country of his birth.
His interest in vitalism undiminished, he came across Smut's Holism and Evolution the book in which the term ‘holism’ was coined. Smuts applied the term to the universe but Ledermann, also a student of Kant, would see holism as mainly in the mind. Nevertheless he must have been one of the first doctors actually to describe his philosophical approach to medicine as ‘holistic’. It was a natural move for him to study and work at the Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital as the idea of homoeopathic medicine applying an ‘holistic stimulus’ (a term he would coin in his writing) to the whole body to initiate a healing response, must have felt consistent with his philosophy of medicine and science. Before moving to London, he also spent a year at the College of Natural Therapy in Edinburgh. At this point in his career he combined orthodox medicine, homoeopathy and naturopathy. Throughout his long career he was most insistent that homoeopathic doctors keep up to date with progress in conventional medicine to enable them to choose the best for their patients. An holistic stimulus such as homeopathy was the preferred choice, but proven orthodox choices should always be used first where there was risk of morbity or mortality.
In London, he worked at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital and remained a member of staff until the age of compulsory retirement. He had a special interest in dermatology and tried to get some double blind trials going at the hospital in the early post-war years. He recalled ward rounds with Douglas Borland and a disagreement they once had when Ledermann suggested treatment of a case of pneumonia with a new type of drug—an antibiotic.
In the 50s and 60s Ledermann pursued his interest in psychiatry and psychotherapy and became a member and eventually a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychotherapy, ethics and philosophy of medicine were to become the passion of his life and the spawning of many books. In Philosophy and Medicine (1970) he spells out his optimistic and holistic attitude to physical and psychological medicine. It was well received but read more by students of philosophy than by the medical profession to whom it was addressed. In Existential Neurosis we learn of his innovative form of psychotherapy which he would later call True Self Psychotherapy. In brief, Ledermann believed that all human beings (with the exception of psychopaths) had a conscience. They may or not be aware of what their conscience would have them do so the goal of psychotherapy becomes ‘to make the unconscious conscience of the patient, conscious’. Thus many psychological problems, according to Ledermann, were really issues of morality and ethics. Existential Neurosis was the first of many books on this subject.
Ledermann used homeopathy throughout his professional life and grew to know Boericke's Materia Medica practically off by heart. He often used lesser-known remedies such as Asclepius tuberosa, Arsenic sulphuricum flavum and Kali sulphuricum chromico. He had strong views on the various controversies surrounding homoeopathy. He approved of the right type of clinically controlled trial but felt that in vitro studies were useless. He also felt that the criticism of homeopathy based on the fact no molecules of the original substance remain in most of our medicines, was ridiculous. To him, the smallest divisible particle in the universe was not the atom, electron, photon or quark. The smallest division was essentially ‘unknowable’ and therefore debates about the active ingredient in a homeopathic medicine were not the point. Nevertheless he used homeopathy daily in the practice of medicine. John English recalled that on the day he had to accept compulsory retirement from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, he wept openly in the Outpatients Department. Fortunately for his many patients he continued to practise for many years thereafter both at his private practice in Harley Street and at a charity, the Nature Cure Clinic, where he served for more than 60 years.
Eric Ledermann continued to see a few patients at his home until the very end. He managed to embrace the digital age and established a website (www.wholepersonmedicine.co.uk) where he published a synopsis of his medical philosophy and welcomed debate. As far as continuing professional development is concerned, he was a perpetual student and in his early 90s was awarded an honorary degree in Chinese medicine.
Dr Ledermann was happily married to his beloved Marjorie until when both in their 90s she predeceased him. He is survived by a son, a daughter, grandchildren and great grand children.