Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2020: Dr Who?

Dr Brock, re-education, and ergotherapy: how an innovative treatment shaped Wilfred Owen’s poetry

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 10 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4587
  1. Neil McLennan, senior lecturer and director of leadership programmes
  1. MacRobert Building, King’s College, University of Aberdeen, AB24 3FX, UK
  1. neil.mclennan{at}

Ergotherapy aimed to reconnect patients with their environment, society, and self—it could be a useful approach for those whose mental health has been affected by covid-19

The end of 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the posthumous publication of Wilfred Owen’s war poems. Many of them were written in late 1917 when he was a “shell shock patient” in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital. Without Craiglockhart and the care of Edinburgh doctor, Arthur John Brock, we may never have read Owen’s words on “the pity of war.”2 A century on, Brock’s “ergotherapy” may have resonance and applicability as the covid-19 pandemic takes its toll on many people’s mental health.

In 1917 Owen saw action in the Somme area of the Western Front. He became a casualty, having fallen into a shell hole. Recovering from concussion he was later injured by a trench mortar and reportedly spent days unconscious. On regaining consciousness, he found himself surrounded by the remains of a fellow officer. Diagnosed as suffering from “war neuroses,” he was transferred …

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