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Louis J. and Kathryn West: Probers of the Mind, Dedicated Activists : He Is Director of the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA

October 27, 1985|MARSHALL BERGES | Times Staff Writer

"Everybody makes a difference," Dr. Louis Jolyon West says. "You can fight city hall. You can change the world. It might not seem like much of a change at the time, but you have the power as an individual to do a great deal."

His appearance matches the message. He has the rugged countenance of a Viking explorer: bearded, with ruddy complexion, he stands 6 feet 4 inches and he weighs 240 pounds.

But West is neither a hotheaded warrior nor a pep-talking sloganeer. He is the chief psychiatrist at UCLA and director of its Neuropsychiatric Institute, where he is the boss of about 2,000 staffers, including 500 psychiatrists.

And in social reform efforts--including the civil rights movement and abolition of the death penalty--West is a dedicated activist who devotes himself to the challenge of making a difference by peaceful means.

Actions and Influence

His actions and influence have been felt in South Africa, where a judge recently ordered police to stop torturing political prisoners. The ruling was hailed as "history making" by South African civil rights activists because it makes the court the active protector of political prisoners. The ruling is considered an outgrowth of West's testimony in previous cases there.

Psychiatrist West's nickname, Jolly, seems unlikely to casual acquaintances, for his manner is serious, attentive, concerned. But he lightens up with frequent moments of laughter, and he can convey a measure of humor even in moments of stress.

He is, aptly, a scholar on stress-related matters. Over the years he has won international recognition for his continuing studies of brainwashing, torture, drugs, violence and cults.

As an Air Force physician during the Korean War, West pioneered research into the brainwashing techniques employed against American prisoners by their captors; he found in numerous cases that confessions of "guilt" had been obtained--without overt brutality--by imposing conditions of prolonged sleeplessness and solitary confinement.

He has been a court-appointed expert witness--serving always without fee--in such widely different cases as those of Patricia Hearst, who was kidnaped and later convicted of armed bank robbery, and Jack Ruby, who was convicted of murdering presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

South Africa Trips

West has made several trips to South Africa to assist victims of political persecution in that country. He went there at the request of Amnesty International, the International Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, various South African universities and other groups.

One trip, in 1977, was taken to aid a group of 10 Zulus who had been charged with conspiracy against the security of the state. West testified that any testimony extracted from them was "tainted"--not reliable because of the methods employed in interrogation.

"Even though I believe torture was used against the Zulus," West told an interviewer recently, "part of my task was to show that it wasn't necessary to prove that electrodes were applied to the genitals, or splinters under the fingernails, because 'confessions' to anything and everything can be obtained in other ways," especially by applying the same methods used against U.S. prisoners during the Korean War.

In 1983 and again in 1984, West went to South Africa on behalf of Auret Van Heerden, a white political prisoner who opposed apartheid. Van Heerden was tortured by police, and West, who examined him, subsequently testified in court that as a result of the torture, Van Heerden suffered post-traumatic stress disorder--the symptoms included nightmares, phobias, depression. Van Heerden later sued the government and was awarded token damages.

Jolly West's blend of professional expertise and personal dedication to the goal of "making a difference" is a propellant that keeps him working long hours at UCLA, teaching and lecturing, writing scholarly books and papers, and--when there is time to do so--traveling around the world.

West, 61, has recently been on a Far Eastern tour, lecturing on post-traumatic stress disorders, alcoholism, schizophrenia and depressive illness at medical schools in Japan and China. He is also preparing a paper for the Southern California Psychiatric Society on the psychiatric implications of detention and torture under the apartheid laws of South Africa. He published a book this year on alcoholism and he will shortly begin work on a book on violence.

Traveling with him in Japan and China and delivering separate lectures was his wife, Dr. Kathryn L. West, 62. Like Jolly, she is an activist and she is also a professional prober of the mind.

A staff psychologist at the Veterans Administration in Brentwood, Kathryn West's lecture topic in Asia dealt with the involvement of families in the treatment of schizophrenia. She is the author of a chapter of a book, "Family Approaches to Major Psychiatric Disorders," just published by the American Psychiatric Assn.

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