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Pathologist of the Mind

Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry

During the first half of the twentieth century, Adolf Meyer was the most authoritative and influential psychiatrist in the United States. In 1908, when the Johns Hopkins Hospital established the first American university clinic devoted to psychiatry—still a nascent medical specialty at the time—Meyer was selected to oversee the enterprise. The Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic opened in 1913, and Meyer served as psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins until 1941.

In Pathologist of the Mind, S. D. Lamb explores how Meyer used his powerful position to establish psychiatry as a clinical science that operated like the other specialties at the country’s foremost medical school and research hospital. In addition to successfully arguing for a scientific and biological approach to mental illness, Meyer held extraordinary sway over state policies regarding the certification of psychiatrists. He also trained hundreds of specialists who ultimately occupied leadership positions and made significant contributions in psychiatry, neurology, experimental psychology, social work, and public health.

Although historians have long recognized Meyer’s authority, his concepts and methods have never before received a systematic historical analysis. Pathologist of the Mind aims to rediscover Meyerian psychiatry by eavesdropping on Meyer’s informal and intimate conversations with patients and colleagues. Weaving together private correspondence and uniquely detailed case histories, Lamb examines Meyer’s efforts to institute a clinical science of psychiatry in the United States—one that harmonized the expectations of scientific medicine with his concept of the person as a biological organism and mental illness as an adaptive failure. The first historian ever granted access to these exceptional medical records, Lamb offers a compelling new perspective on the integral but misunderstood legacy of Adolf Meyer.

About the Author

S. D. Lamb is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in History of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Reviews

"Fortunately for anyone wishing to learn about Meyer's ideas and their influence, Lamb, a historian, has mined his unpublished papers and correspondence for the truths that became opaque when he turned them into essays. Crucially, she has also read more than 1,800 of the meticulous patient records that Meyer and his staff created at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, which reveal him at work as a clinician and teacher. These she presents as the key to understanding how he created an American psychiatry with his ideas at its center. The result is a tutorial in Meyer's psychobiology, and a fascinating look at patients' experiences, their suffering, and treatment in the early 20th century."

- PsycCRITIQUES

"In this fascinating study, Lamb examines Meyer's efforts to establish psychiatry as a clinical science and subdiscipline of biology... This book is a medical historian's dream."

- Choice

"Full of interesting information on how Dr. Adolf Meyer, a Swiss neurologist and psychiatrist, set the basis for modern psychiatry in the United States."

- Metapsychology

"[Lamb] aims to give us a more detailed and rounded portrait of Meyer's life and career."

- Times Literary Supplement

"Some books are worth underlining every sentence. Pathologist of the Mind is one of them."

- Psychiatric Services

"Lamb’s intellectual and professional biography will inevitably stimulate further historical research on Adolf Meyer’s influence on American psychiatry."

- Isis

" Pathologist of the Mind clarifies Meyerian notions of psychobiology, psychotherapy, and evolutionary theory (among others) and places this important figure, as well as the hospital and area of specialty to which he was dedicated, into historical context. In impressively detailed fashion, the book brings the man and the era to life."

- Cheiron Book Prize Citation

Endorsements

" Pathologist of the Mind clearly articulates the techniques and methods of reasoning that set Adolf Meyer's approach apart from those of his contemporaries. His clinical empiricism made for a quintessentially American approach to psychiatry: inclusive and practical, but unrestrained by too many theoretical considerations. Many, perhaps most, psychiatrists know that Meyer is an important figure in American psychiatry, but usually don't quite know why. Dr. Lamb's superb book makes the reasons pellucidly clear."

- Francis Mark Mondimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

"Lamb looked in the right place to find the real Adolf Meyer—his detailed case histories of patients. Meyer was a superb brain scientist and neuropathologist, but he was convinced that this alone was an insufficient frame for understanding the problems of psychiatric patients. The dynamic tensions which drove him to formulate his patient-centered 'psychobiological' approach are the same tensions we see and argue about in the field of psychiatry today."

- J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr., MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Johns Hopkins University Press
2014
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