Oxford Loebel Lectures and Research Programme


Project dates: 2013 - 2016

The Oxford Loebel Lectures and Research Programme were established in 2013 through the generosity of Dr Pierre and Mrs Felice Loebel. Dr Loebel’s concerns about the theoretical basis of psychiatry have been formed during a career of over forty years as a psychiatrist.

For centuries there has been discussion around whether mental events are of physiogenetic (soma, brain) or psychogenetic (psyche, mind) origin, how those comes about, and what the nature is of the relation between those domains. These questions are of critical practical importance in medicine, and especially in psychiatry.

The Oxford Loebel Lectures and Research Programme (OLLRP) seeks to address the shortcomings of a unilinear approach to mental illness that comes from focussing uniquely on the biological, psychological or social contributions, functioning independently.

Instead, the Programme will work towards delineating the nature and magnitude of biopsychosocial interactions in the causation, evaluation and management of mental states, normal and abnormal (e.g. how the gene interacts with the environment), going beyond a simple checklist of contributing factors to arrive at an understanding of how the interactions between factors affect one other, and indeed configure the whole. An approximation to the concept is the image presented by a finely woven tapestry in which the design emerges clearly from a weave whose threads are too fine to be seen unaided.

We will bring the best philosophy to bear on this analysis to clarify concepts and generate hypotheses. Ethics will evaluate potential interventions and management strategies, and beyond to consider the possibilities of functional enhancement.

The end result of this manner of conceptualizing mental illness and indeed illness in general is potentially transformative. The appeal to understand the patient “as a whole” has been heard at least since Hippocrates who aphoristically enjoined us “to understand not the illness the patient has, but the patient the disease has”. This entails the diagnosis and treatment not solely of symptoms but also of propensity and vulnerability, of risk factors, resistance and resilience, and the potential for the attainment not only of recovery from an ailment but the attainment of wellness. Thus, while the reductive or atomistic approach will always continue to be useful it will come to be seen as complementary to the approach proposed by George Engel with the title “Biopsychosocial” (BPS).

OLLRP will examine the BPS approach with a view to incorporating modern findings and hence further develop the concept for the 21st Century.

The project will aim to emulate the manner in which the development of Evidence Based Medicine - a relatively new concept in 90s - has become now a foundation for practice, for research and for policy.

The Loebel Lectures

Inaugural Loebel Lectures, Professor Kenneth S. Kendler (2014)

Lecture 1: The Genetic Epidemiology of Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Disorders: Multiple Levels, Interactions and Causal Loops
Audio [MP3] | Watch video on YouTube | Blog post by Professor Roger Crisp.

Lecture 2: The Dappled Causal World of Psychiatric Disorders: The Link Between the Classification of Psychiatric Disorders and Their Causal Complexity
Audio [MP3] | Watch video on YouTube | b
log post by Dr Rebecca Roache.

Professor Steven E. Hyman (2015)

Lecture 1: Neurobiological materialism collides with the experience of being human

Audio [MP3]  |  Video [YouTube]

Lecture 2: Science is quietly, inexorably eroding many core assumptions underlying psychiatry

Audio [MP3] | Video [YouTube]

Lecture 3: What is the upshot?

Audio [MP3] | Video [YouTube]

Professor Shaun Nichols (2015)

Jointly-hosted Wellcome & Loebel Lecture in Neuroethics: Death and the Self

Audio [MP3]

Professor Essi Viding (2016)

Series title: Developmental risk and resilience: The challenge of translating multi-level data to concrete interventions
Lecture 1, Wednesday 2 November 2016: Audio [MP3]  |  Video [MP4]

Lecture 2, Thursday 3 November 2016: Audio [MP3]  |  Video [MP4]

Project Publications

Major project output: Will Davies, Julian Savulescu, and Rebecca Roache (Eds), (2020), Psychiatry Reborn: Biopsychosocial psychiatry in modern medicinewith introduction by Professor J. Pierre Loebel, (Oxford, Oxford University Press)