Tom Burns CBE
Emerita & Emeritus Fellow
Professor of Social Psychiatry
MD Cambridge, MA Oxford, DSc London, FRC Psych
I have recently retired from the post of Professor of Social Psychiatry at Oxford which I held from 2003 to 2014. Before that I was Professor of Community Psychiatry at St George’s London. My research has mainly been into the forms of care for individuals with severe mental illnesses (essentially psychoses) away from hospitals. I focused on trying to improve the rigour of such research and on trying to identify the different components of their care, separating what works from what does not. A couple of my trials have unexpectedly shown that things we were convinced worked (very intensive follow up and, more recently, compulsion outside hospital) in fact do not make things any better for patients. Such findings do not make you popular. The response to these two trials has dispelled any illusions I may have harboured that scientists were cool, dispassionate and rational beings.
I am of the generation of psychiatrists who were most interested in psychological factors and psychotherapy and not just brain chemicals and drugs. Constantly irritated by the endless misrepresentation of psychiatry in public media I have been concerned to try and make my profession more intelligible to the general public. In addition to my academic publications I have published a Penguin describing psychiatry and exploring its controversies (Our Necessary Shadow: the Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry, Penguin 2013) and two OUP Very Short Introductions, one to Psychiatry (2006) and one, along with my wife Eva Burns-Lundgren, to Psychotherapy (2015).