About Edmond Gilliéron

After studying medicine at the universities of Neuchatel, Lausanne and Paris, Edmond Gilliéron specialized in psychiatry “somewhat by accident”.  A series of events led him the medical monitoring of a private psychiatric clinic. The vast field of psychiatry, including psychopharmacology, psychoanalysis and the environment, fascinated him and fueled his drive to explore further.  Edmond Gilliéron then trained at the University of Lausanne’s Cery Hospital under Professor Muller, known for his work on the psychoanalytical approach to schizophrenia. Dr. Gilliéron continued at the University of Lausanne’s psychiatric polyclinic under the direction of psychoanalyst P.B. Schneider, a disciple of Balint, interested in group dynamics and the doctor-patient relationship in general practice.

Dr. Gilliéron was named director of the psychiatric hospital clinic, and later, director of the psychiatric outpatient clinic, where he rose through the ranks earning the title of associate professor at the University of Lausanne.  On the international scene, Dr. Gilliéron has been invited to teach or speak at the most prestigious universities in Europe and North America, including Laval University and the University of Montreal in Quebec.

At the University hospital, Dr. Gilliéron met Luc Kaufman, recently returned from studies in the United States, notably in Palo Alto and at the Ackermann Institute in New York.  Gilliéron, fascinated by systems theory, especially Bateson’s work, joined forces with Kaufmann in a comparative study of schizophrenics, the severely depressed, and borderline cases and how their families functioned. At this point, he began comparing various approaches to mental disorders, including psychoanalytical, systemic, and psychopharmacological. This comparative perspective has remained with him throughout his career. Indeed, Gilliéron has always strived to highlight how theories vary and overlap.  His first works focussed on the relationship between psychoanalytical and systemic approaches, e.g., neurosis, psychosis and the family, the systemic approach and Balint groups in general medicine, and the function of myths in collective stability.

While studying how the framework affects the psychotherapeutic process, Dr. Gilliéron developed an original brief psychotherapy technique. He then created a four-session psychiatric investigation technique that was quickly adopted by numerous centers throughout Europe and North America.  As a result, he was able to build a metatheory of psychic functioning in which notions of objectal scaffolding and mentalization are two key components.

The Approach

Early in his psychiatric training, Edmond Gilliéron investigated the relationship between psychoanalysis and the systems approach to mental problems. This led him to study and compare several types of psychotherapy: individual, group, and family therapy; short-term; undetermined duration; psychodrama, and institutional problematics. He also researched the various classifications of mental problems and their underlying theories.  Travel has further enabled Dr. Gilliéron to analyze cultural differences in approaches to mental disorders.

In an effort to synthesize all this information, Dr. Gilliéron proceeded to study not only the patients and their declared illnesses but also the various relationships between patients and their therapists according to those pathologies, as well as the therapists ”different practices and the therapists” particular reference theories. Moreover, Gilliéron looked into the writings of the main authors in their respective fields, e.g., in psychoanalysis, Freud and the various schools after him, most notably the Hungarian school (Ferenczi, Balint); the English school (M. Klein, Winnicott, Bion), the Franco-Swiss school (Société de Paris, Société de France, a little Lacan, the Swiss Society of Psychology). The Argentinian school but essentially the American schools interested him for the systems approach, particularly Palo Alto (D. Jackson, Watzlawick and especially Bateson), and New York’s Ackermann Institute.

In short, Dr. Gilliéron has studied the behavior of different therapists according to their reference theories. This had led him to delve deeper into the following:

  • Interactions between patients and therapists
  • Relationship between framework and therapeutic process
  • Relationship between the real and the imaginary
  • Psychological change and what Dr. Gilliéron called mentalization.
  • Relationship between psychic functioning and society
  • Effects of trauma on psychic functioning

Overall, there is an emphasis on the interactions between ACT and THINK.

Dr. Gilliéron successfully crafted a metatheory to make it easier to understand the effects of theory on a therapist’s behavior and, vice versa, the effects of a patient’s psychopathology on the therapist’s behavior.  He determined that in practice, regardless of the reference theory, therapists adopted behaviors often straying from their theory.  For example, psychoanalysts became more strategic than the rule of neutrality imposed on them; whereas, systematicians and behavioralists gave ‘interpretations’. Dr. Gilliéron sought to understand the links between the various elements mentioned above, so he drafted and studied the hypothesis of a triple scaffolding of psychic functioning; in other words, a biological component (somatic), an environmental component (objectal) and an intrapsychic component (organization of the psyche). The balance achieved among the three components follows the laws controlling complex systems.  Using this hypothesis, Dr. Gilliéron studied many psychological phenomena, ranging from the dynamics of individual psychotherapies to collective examples such as wars, religious experiences, catastrophes and psychological traumas. Dr. Gilliéron was thus able to build a metatheory of psychological functioning in which the notions of objectal scaffolding and mentalization are two key parts.