TIME LINE:  HISTORY OF GEEL (including Geel Research Project)

NOTE: Various histories report different dates for the same event.  Dates given below are those most commonly reported. (Events related to the "Geel Research Project" are in bold.)

6th--7th c. According to legend, beheading of Dymphna, daughter of an incestuous Irish king, and her guardian priest, Gerebern.  Evidence of devotion to memory of Dymphna and miracles attributed to her from this date forward.  Original worship takes place in small chapel containing relics of Dymphna and Gerebern
10th -11th c. Spread of word regarding miracles necessitates building of larger church.
1247 Canonization of Dymphna as “patron saint of demented victims” because she resisted incestuous advances of her father who was believed to be “possessed by the devil”
1248 First written record of St. Dymphna legend, by Belgian canon Peter van Kamerijk
Baron of Geel builds guest house hospital near St. Dymphna’s chapel.
14th c. Heavy influx of lunatic pilgrims seeking miracles
1349 Building of present church begun (completed 1749)
1480         Sickroom built onto church.  Pilgrims housed here for nine days of treatment.
1532       College of 10 clerics established to oversee colony boarding system.  Prior to this, church priests provide informal supervision of family care.
Church and sick room had been destroyed several times by fire and storm  New sick room built to accommodate more pilgrims; divided into four rooms with small dark cell in each..
1797         French revolution results in closing of church by French government.  Many pilgrims still come to Geel. Received by private individuals
1803         Since boarders remain in Geel, legislation requiring inspections passed but Geelians object to interference
1811  French Minister of Justice decides to abolish family care in Geel but, due to delaying tactics by local government, decision never acted on.
Belgium is part of United Kingdom of Netherlands
1821 Etienne Esquirol, student of Phillipe Pinel, visits and writes Des Maladies Mentales.  Criticizes program due to lack of: 1) medical staff, 2) therapeutic environment of hospital, and 3) moral treatment regimen
1832         In context of new Belgian legislation requiring every municipality to take charge of their own mentally ill, four doctors nominated to oversee medical needs of mentally ill pilgrims.
1838         Organization of family care in Geel comes under local government

National Mental Illness Law passed in Belgium intended to protect patients as well as Belgian population.  Article 6 of law finally included to recognize family care.  Accommodation in family care given same legal status as admission to normal psychiatric institution
1852         Administration of colony taken over by state.  Program formally designated as Rijkskolonie (State Colony) and Medical Director named
1862        First inpatient facility built.  Used for entry examination, treatment of somatic problems, and rehospitalization when problems with foster family developed
1875         Law passed to forbid acceptance of patients into sick rooms of church.  Law not actually executed until 1881 when last patient stays in church
1885         Psychiatric hospital of Lierneux (in province of Liège) founded for French speaking patients of Geel
Division for mentally handicapped children founded
1935         Original church converted to museum
Visit to Geel by: Charles D. Aring, Cincinnati neurologist.  Results in 1974 JAMA article, most often cited in American psychology textbooks
1948         Mental health care, including the Rijkskolonie, transferred from Ministry of Justice to new Ministry of Public Health
1960     Drs. Matthew Dumont and Knight Aldrich, University of Chicago, spend two weeks in Geel and are disturbed to discover diminishing patient population
1961         Dumont and Aldrich present findings at 117th annual meeting of American Psychiatric Association in Chicago (presentation published in American Journal of Psychiatry in 1962)
1962         Dr. Viola Bernard makes first contacts with officials in Belgium
Geel native, Dr. Jan Schrijvers, a Belgian psychiatrist, recruited for training in Columbia University Division of Community Psychiatry

“Hospital Law” gives existing, old, psychiatric institutions status of normal hospitals
Division for mentally handicapped children removed from Geel Colony
1966        Dr. Leo Srole, Columbia University sociologist, visits Geel and agrees to design and direct Geel Research Project

Grace Foundation, Inc. and Family Care Foundation for the Mentally Ill, Inc. formed by John Moore, President of Grace Line and father of mentally ill daughter, provide funding for summer research project
NIMH grant to Dr. Srole for pilot study of Geel Family Care
1968         “Geel, Belgium: The Prototype Therapeutic Community,” presented to American Psychiatric Association by Dr. Srole
1970 Presentations on Geel and Geel Project presented at: Flemish Psychiatric Association, World Federation of Mental Health, VII World Sociological Congress

Dr. Srole’s first letter to Belgian Minister of Public Health recommending: increased Colony staff, increase in financial support of Colony professionals and foster families
1970-78    NIMH grant awarded for 3 year project, “Geel Foster Family Care Research Project”; project extended to 5 years w/out add’l funding and 3 more years w/ some supplemental funding (Other funding during life of project from: N.Y. State Psychiatric Institute, Belgium Ministry of Health, Leuven University.)
Dr. Srole proposes, to Belgian Health Minister, Geel Research Project II as empirical test of Geel Project recommendations        
1975         International Symposium on Foster Family Care held in Geel in May in conjunction with St. Dymphna celebration (held every five years).
1976       Dr. Srole takes on Emeritus status at Columbia University; Sidney Malitz, M. D. becomes investigator of record for grant

Dr. Srole presents “Geel, Belgium, The National Therapeutic Community: 1475-1975" to Kittay Foundation International Symposium on Community Mental Health
1978         Dr. Srole submits chapter and intro for Geel book to Basic Books; receives contract from same.

 Dr. Srole presents Geel paper at IXth World Sociological Congress

Publication of Mental Patients in Town Life: Geel - Europe’s First Therapeutic Community written by Dr. Eugeen Roosens, head of anthropological team.
1987        Irene Zola, writer, hired to write up research on Geel Family Care Program
1987-88  John Moore provides additional funding for Dr. Srole’s work on Geel Project Monograph
Rijkscolonie and Lierneux (see 1885) attain autonomous status as Flemish Public Institute subject to Belgian hospital laws.  Entire system now referred to as Openbaar Psychiztrisch Ziekenhuis Geel (OPZ, Public Psychiatric Hospital of Geel)
1993         Dr. Leo Srole dies at age of 85
Dr. Jan Schrijvers assigned as Director of OPZ

Dr. Srole’s papers archived at Hobart / William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY
1998      Dr. Viola Bernard dies at age of 91.  In October, papers, including two boxes related to Geel, archived at Columbia University’s Health Sciences Library as of 
2000         May 19-20, International Symposium, Congress 2000, Geel; September, Dr. Schrijvers retires, Jan van Rensbergen assigned as Director of OPZ
November: completion of new adult care hospital; currently four hospitals for 1) adult care, 2) adolescence, 3) geriatrics, 4) rehabilitation, including foster family care services
2005        May 12-13, Geel Congress 2005, Balanced Care: Innovative Perspectives on Psychiatric Rehabilitation 
2006        February: Director van Rensbergen resigns for new post outside of Geel; nursing director / hospital manager Hans Verbiest assumes position of temporary director
2007 July:  Pieter Jans assumes duties as new OPZ director; formerly director of Belgium's SYNTRA Flanders, Flemish organization involved in education and training of self-employed people.

Home | About the Author | Author's Publications | Legend of Dymphna | Geel Time line | Geel Research Project |
Biblio of Geel Publications | United States Programs | Contact author

Web-site lasted updated August 13, 2007