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February 17, 1975

The Gheel Experience

Author Affiliations

Laguna Beach, Calif

JAMA. 1975;231(7):702. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03240190012006

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To the Editor.—  Dr. Aring's Gheel experience (230:998, 1974) made me remember my visit to Gheel. I was the first journalist permitted by Belgian authorities to interview the towns-people and their malades, as the Gheeleis referred to the mentally ill they took into their homes while the rest of the world preferred to lock them up.My visit came 15 years later than Dr. Aring's, in 1961, at a time when I was science editor of Look magazine. The month was February, a cold and bleak period during which the sun never shone, yet I recall it as the brightest four weeks in my memory.That year, Gheel's population was 23,000, including 2,200 "sick ones" from all over the world, who lived with the townspeople as members of the family. Most householders worked small farms, a few were shopkeepers, and the malades labored along with them in the fields, shared