Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry

I have been interested in Adolf Meyer since my training as a psychiatrist forty years ago. While one might say that Meyer, who was the most influential American psychiatrist in the first half of the twentieth century, is the forgotten psychiatrist of the twenty-first, his teachings were still in the air in the 1970s. But they were just in the air. Freudian theories and treatments were what we were taught. Trying to find out just what Meyer thought and did was difficult, not just because his writings were not a part of our curriculum, but because his writings were impenetrable.
Many thanks are now due the historian Susan Lamb for writing a lively and lucid account of Meyer's most creative period-- the twenty years before the World War I. She provides a chapter on his life and influences and another on his concept of psychobiology. She also uses a day in the life of a typical patient at the Phipps Clinic that Meyer ran to show how every detail of a patient's life was used in a therapeutic effort. She then provides two lengthy case histories the show the implications of Meyer's ideas. These are beautifully presented and really gave me a sense of how psychiatrists thought about patients in the early years of the twentieth century. She ends with a chapter that tries to relate Meyer's ideas to issues that psychiatrists and others struggle with today.
Now I finally feel that I understand Meyer and the many ways that breathing that Meyerian air in my youth influenced my life.

Perhaps I wasn't clear. The title of Susan Lamb's book is Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)

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