In Memoriam: Hanscarl Leuner, 1918-1996

Autumn 1996 Vol. 06, No. 4 An Invitation for Dialogue

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  • Professor of Clinical Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at Göttingen University, Germany.
  • Creator of Guided Affective Imagery, a widely-known daydream psychotherapy method, 1954-1996.
  • Founder and President of the European Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy (EPT), 1961-1972.
  • Creator of the electronically-aided Respiratory Feedback Relaxation Method (RFB).
  • Co-founder and President of the European College for the Study of Consciousness (ECSC), 1985-1996.

Hanscarl Leuner, pioneer of hallucinogen research and Psycholytic Therapy in Europe, died on June 22 after a short time of illness in his home town of Göttingen, Germany.

Beginning his research in the early fifties with experiments in the use of guided mental imagery for psychotherapeutic purposes, Leuner pioneered the method of intensifying mental imagery and cathartic experiences by the adjuvant use of low doses of hallucinogens in the context of analytical psychotherapy. In 1960, after gaining success with his approach to hallucinogen-assisted psychotherapy, Leuner initiated the first European symposium on “The Use of LSD-25 in Psychotherapy” at Göttingen University. Shortly thereafter, he united the European psycholytic therapists in the European Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy (EPT). This society initiated five scientific symposia about the subject and existed until the rise of legal problems which resulted from difficulties with the nonmedical use of hallucinogens. In 1962, he published “Die experimentelle Psychose,” the classic scientific work about the phenomenological and structural psychopathological interpretation of the LSD reaction. He also contributed more than 30 projects and papers on applications of hallucinogens other than for therapy (experimental psychosis approach, clinical tests of new hallucinogens, misuse of hallucinogens, etc.). Because he was the major researcher on the continent, Dr. Leuner was permitted to retain his license for the use of hallucinogens in clinical research and therapy until his retirement from his chair at Göttingen University in 1986.

Beginning in the fifties he conducted – independently from his hallucinogen research – a series of experiments in the use of guided mental imagery in a daydream-like state of consciousness and developed the effective and widely known psychotherapy method of “Guided Affective Imagery.”

Insights about the central role of relaxation in psychosomatic medicine led Leuner to create a method for facilitating relaxation by technical means. In the seventies, he developed a technical device which could induce a state of relaxation in a short span of time. Now there are thousands of “Leunomed” respiration feedback systems in use in Europe and America. Over the last ten years, he was working mainly on his last book about the possibilities of this method.

In 1985, together with other important researchers in the field, Leuner founded the “European College for the Study of Consciousness (ECSC).” This organization provides an international forum for scientists and therapists who are interested in basic research and therapeutic uses of altered states of consciousness. Since its founding, the ECSC has initiated seven symposia on specific topics and two major international congresses.

In his last years, Dr. Leuner was still doing psycholytic therapy and spent most of his time treating patients.

Torsten Passie, M.D. worked closely with Dr. Leuner up until his death. The next issue of the MAPS newsletter will have an in-depth article about Dr. Leuner by Dr. Passie.