Paul Tournier

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Paul Tournier (1898, May 12-1986, October 7) was a Swiss physician and author who had acquired a worldwide audience for his work in pastoral counseling. His ideas had a significant impact on the spiritual and psychosocial aspects of routine patient care[1], and he had been called the twentieth century's most famous Christian physician.[2]

Life and Education

Paul Tournier was born in Geneva, Switzerland as the son of Pastor Louis Tournier and Alisabeth Ormond. His seventy-year-old father, who was a highly respected clergyman at St. Peter's cathedral[3], died two months after his birth. At the age of six he was orphaned when his mother, then 42, died from breast cancer.[4] Afterwards Tournier and his 10 year old sister was raised by his uncle and aunt, Mr & Mrs Jacques Ormond.[5][6]

This painful experience had a profound effect on Tournier. He withdrew into himself and became lonely and shy. Throughout his adolescence he maintained a sense of insecurity[2] which he would hide behind an intellectual facade, accentuated by his mathematical success in grade school, and by a Greek teacher in high school.[5]

In 1923 Tournier received an M.D. degree at the University of Geneva. During his student years he acted as the Swiss president of the student movement Zofingia and became a Red Cross delegate for the repatriation of Austrian and Russian prisoners of war in Vienna.[7]

On October 4, 1924, he married Nelly Bouvier. The couple had two children. In 1984, ten years after the death of his first wife he remarried to Corinne O'Rama in Geneva.

Tournier died from carcinoma at his home Le grain de ble (The grain of wheat) in Troinex, Switzerland.


Through 1924 Tournier was assistant medical doctor at the Medical Policlinic in Geneva under Prof. Bickel. In 1925 Tournier opened a private practice in Geneva, and started operating as general medical practitioner.

Tournier became increasingly interested in Calvinism and the Reformed faith, and was heavily involved in civic and medical groups. In 1932 he joined the Oxford Group. As a result of his interests he investigated the relationship between medicine, counseling, and spiritual values. Although he initially considered giving up medicine for counseling he finally decided to combine the two, and in 1937 he transformed his private medical practice into a counseling practice.

In 1940 he published his first book Médecine de la Personne (Medicine of the Person) wherein he advocates that man is more than just body and a mind, but also a spiritual being. This combination is what makes man a person. Therefore, it is impossible to know and treat him if one disregards his deepest reality.[8] The book was published in English under the title The Healing of Persons. After the success of his first book he became a prolific writer of books dealing with the subject. Although he did not have any formal training in psychiatry or theology, his writing has influenced a generation of medical and religious professionals the world over. [2] His books would eventually be translated into thirteen languages.[5]

Around 1946 he disassociated himself from the Oxford Group (now called Moral Re-Armament). He would eventually (in 1982) reconcile with the group (renamed again as Initiatives of Change).[9]

Psychosomatic medicine was still in its infancy, and Tournier observed that the contemporary approach to illness was purely organic, and failed to consider the patient as a whole. Tournier saw the need to not only consider the physical aspects of health, but also the psychological and spiritual dimensions. He therefore invited medical colleagues from a variety of fields and a number of philosophers to reflect on this with him. 1947 marked the first meeting of this international study group called Médecine de La Personne[10], and which has met annually ever since. According to the group:

Medicine of the Person is not just another branch of medicine. It is an attitude towards contact, an approach to patient-care, applicable in all areas. It puts the emphasis on awareness of patients as whole persons, with places in their community and society. Both the organic and the psychological approach are integral parts of Medicine of the Person, as is consideration of the connection between state of health, life events, social insertion and spirituality.[10]

Tournier and two other doctors established the ecumenical group Group of Bossey (named after the Chateau de Bossey, near Geneva). His book, A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible, grew out of this effort. How Tournier practiced his work can be seen in A Tournier Companion.[7]

Throughout his career Tournier was known for his presence, gentle personality and sincere demeanor, and his ability to communicate across language barriers.[11] As his views became more popular, he was invited to lecture overseas. He would subsequently travel extensively to promote his ideas.[9]

Tournier's world view and philosophy

Two religious experiences would underlie Tournier’s later work. When he was 12, he became a Christian. As he grew up he became active in the church, started writing articles about Calvinism, and argued for orthodoxy and against liberalism. His Christian experience did however not become totally meaningful to him until a second experience which he called a “face-to-face encounter with God”. This encounter transformed his life and changed everything, and gave him a vital interest in “that other side of life, for its inner dimension, so necessary to us."[12]

This encounter caused him to radically change his medical practice. Instead of merely treating the physical disorders of his patients, he started addressing the deeper problems of the whole person. In 1937 he wrote a letter to all his patients informing them of this new orientation.[7]

Tournier describes his newfound interest in the whole person as such:

I can speak endlessly of myself, to myself or to someone else, without ever succeeding in giving a complete and truthful picture of myself... The same thing happens with all these people who come to see me, and take so much trouble over their efforts to describe themselves to me with strict accuracy; inevitably I form an image of them which derives as much from myself as from them. If they go and see one of my colleagues he will certainly not see them exactly as I do. And they for their part will not show themselves to him in the same way they show themselves to me.

The reader will see now why it is that this problem of the person has for twenty years been of such absorbing interest to me. It has a general significance which is of vital importance for all thought and civilization: what is man? But it also has a particular significance, which is equally important for my own life: who am I, really, myself?[13]


  • "Every doctor, Christian or not, is a collaborator with God. As Ambroise Parésaid in his well known words: I tended him. God healed him."[14]
  • "Health is not the mere absence of disease. It is a quality of life, a physical, psychical, and spiritual unfolding, and exaltation of personal dynamism."[8]
  • "Man is not just a body and a mind. He is a spiritual being. It is impossible to know him if one disregards his deepest reality."[8]
  • "It is an unscientific assumption of materialist philosophy which supposes that material facts (anatomical and physiological) are the cause, and that moral (psychological and spiritual) facts are the consequences, and not the other way about."[8]
  • "Recounting of a life story, a mind thinking aloud leads one inevitably to the consideration of problems which are no longer psychological but spiritual."[15]
  • "Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets."[16]
  • "Our mental hospitals are filled with people whose natures are artistic, gentle, and intuitive, crushed by the struggle to live, incapable of keeping up with the speed of the men of action."[8]
  • "Let us not seek to bring religion to others, but let us endeavor to live it ourselves."[15]


Tournier's work had received widespread international interest and acclaim. According to Viktor Frankl:

He [Paul Tournier] was the pioneer of person-centered psychotherapy. Psychotherapy should also have a spiritual dimension, dealing with each person in his or her uniqueness and individuality. Psychotherapy cannot be personal enough.[17]

Paul Tournier is remembered by the efforts of:

  • The Paul Tournier Institute, a division of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA). The Paul Tournier Institute is an educational endeavor, providing unique resources developed and published by the CMDA.[18]
  • Association Paul Tournier, a non-profit organization promoting ideas of Paul Tournier.[19]
  • International Group of Medicine of the Whole Person, an organization dedicated to furthering the Medicine of the Whole Person through annual meetings.[10]
  • In 2006 Christianity Today magazine listed Paul Tournier's The Meaning of Persons[13] as one of the top 50 books that have influenced the way Evangelicals think, talk, witness, worship, and live.[20]

See also

Pastoral care
Biopsychosocial model
Health psychology
Existential therapy
Holistic medicine

External links


  • The Healing of Persons
  • Escape from Loneliness (De la solitude à la communauté, Delachaux & Niestlé, Neuchâtel / Paris, 1943/1948)
  • The Person Reborn
  • The Whole Person in a Broken World
  • The Strong and the Weak
  • A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible (Bible et Medecine, Delachaux & Niestlé, Neuchâtel / Paris)
  • The Frontier between Psychotherapy and Soul-healing
  • [The Meaning of Persons] (Le personage et la personne, Delachaux & Niestlé)
  • Guilt and Grace
  • The Meaning of Gifts
  • The Seasons of Life
  • To Resist or to Surrender?
  • To Understand Each Other
  • Toward a Christian Anthropology
  • Fatigue in Modern Society
  • Secrets
  • The Adventure of Living (L'Aventure de la Vie, Delachaux et Niestlé, Neuchâtel et Paris, 1965)
  • Forgiveness and Mental Health
  • What is Mental Health?
  • The Person in an Age of Conformity" in Are You Nobody?
  • A Place for You (L'homme et son lieu, Delachaux et Niestlé, Neuchâtel, 1966)
  • A Dialogue between Doctor and Patient
  • Listen to God
  • There's a New World Coming
  • Learn to Grow Old
  • My Religious Vocation as Physician
  • The Naming of Persons
  • The Meaning of Possessiveness
  • A Tournier Companion


  1. Google Books description of the work of Tournier for Medicine of the Person: Faith, Science And Values in Health Care Provision, by K. W. M. Fulford, Alastair V. Campbell, John Lee Cox (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007) ISBN 1-84310-397-4
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Christian Psychology of Paul Tournier, by Cary R Collins (1973), book review by H. Newton Malony, Fuller Theological Seminary
  3. Paul Tournier: Christian Man of Science, by Gary R Collins (1973)
  4. Medicine of the Person: Faith, Science And Values in Health Care Provision, by K. W. M. Fulford, Alastair V. Campbell, John Lee Cox (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007) ISBN 1-84310-397-4, page 33
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Ephemera of Paul Tournier, a short biography of Paul Tournier at the archives of the Billy Graham Center
  6. Medicine of the Person: Faith, Science And Values in Health Care Provision, by K. W. M. Fulford, Alastair V. Campbell, John Lee Cox (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007) ISBN 1-84310-397-4, page 33-34
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Paul Tournier - Establisher of the Medicine of the person, biography of Paul Tournier by The Letter Online
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 The Healing of Persons, by Paul Tournier (republished 1983 by Harper & Row) ISBN 0-06068-351-1
  9. 9.0 9.1 Biography of Paul Tournier, by Association Paul Tournier
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 International Meetings of Medicine of the Person
  11. Tribute to Paul Tournier, by Keith Miller, Bernard Harnik, Monroe Peaston, Hazel Goddard & William Sisterson
  12. Paul Tournier's Universalism, abstract of Masters Thesis by Daniel D. Musick (1973)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Paul Tournier. The Meaning of Persons ISBN 1-56849-248-0
  14. A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the Bible, by Paul Tournier (Highland Books, 1988) ISBN 0946616027
  15. 15.0 15.1 Quotes of Paul Tournier, by BrainyQuote
  16. Secrets, by Paul Tournier ISBN 0-80423-655-0
  17. Viktor Frankl, as quoted in Medicine of the Person: Faith, Science And Values in Health Care Provision, by K. W. M. Fulford, Alastair V. Campbell, John Lee Cox page 42
  18. Ministries of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, an informational brochure by the CMDA
  19. Association Paul Tournier
  20. The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals, article in Christianity Today magazine (10/06/2006)