PAUL TOURNIER

Establisher of the Medicine of the person


Paul Tournier was a general practitioner in Geneva for nearly fifty years. Although he had never had a specialist training and disclaimed the title of psychiatrist, his own experiences, and his discovery that many patients needed help going deeper than drugs or surgery, led him to develop and practise what he called the “medicine of the person”, in which medical knowledge, understanding and religion are combined. Instead of lying on a psychiatric couch, his patients were often sitting in his living-room by the fire and talking to the doctor, sometimes in the presence of the doctor's wife. Few psychiatrists have helped so many patients to solve their problems as Tournier did.

Paul Tournier was born in Geneva in 1898. He lost his father when he was a baby of three months and his mother six years later. An uncle took the orphaned Paul and his sister Louise into his home and brought them up.

Paul had already decided by the age of twelve that he wanted to be a doctor, and although his school carrier was not distinguished, he soon proved to be an outstanding medical student at the University of Geneva. He was also a popular leader among his contemporaries, and was elected President of a country-wide student body. During his time at university, he helped the International Red Cross after the First World War in their work of repatriating Russian and Austrian Prisoners of War. After graduating from the uuniversity in 1923, he spent one year as a junior doctor in Paris, before returning to Geneva to spend a further four years at the Polytechnic. Then, in 1928, he entered private practice in Geneva, and remained in it until his retirement. For the whole of his career Paul Tournier was a General Practitioner.

His decision for christian devotion and change of his therapeutic was so radical, that he wrote in 1937 a letter to all his patients informing them that he changed his orientation and he would go beyond the physical dosorders of the patient to the deeper problems of the whole personality. Soon after that he wrote his first book, The Healing of Persons.

With two other doctors he organized the oecumenical group, wich took the name Group of Bossey, from the Palace of Bossey, near Geneva, where they met. Paul Tournier was always present in that group. From his first presentations to his colleagues in Bossey the book A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible grew out. How Tournier has developed and practised his work is evident from the book A Tournier Companion.

The editions and translations of Paul Tournier's books are too numerous to list. “A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible” has been translated from french into english, german, finnish, japanese, dutch, swedish, spanish, norwegian and italian. Other books have been published in sixteen languages and approximately two million copies. Some of them are:

  • The Adventure of Living
  • Escape from loneliness
  • Learning to grow old
  • Marriage difficulties
  • The Meaning of Persons
  • The Person Reborn
  • A Place for you
  • The Strong and the Weak
  • What is a name?


(Source of biography: SCM Press, London)

BackColumns