Tag Archives: Adolf Meyer

2016 Cheiron Book Prize

LambFrom the Executive Officer David K. Robinson of Cheiron (International Society for the History of Behavioural and Social Sciences):

In acknowledgment of the book’s exceptional contributions to our understanding of Adolf Meyer and the field he singularly shaped, Cheiron awards the 2016 Book Prize to Susan D. Lamb (U. Ottawa) for Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2014.

After becoming the first psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Meyer devoted himself over the next five decades to the scientific acceptance of psychiatry as a methodologically sound specialty of medicine. Although historians of psychiatry have recognized Meyer as a founding father, many of his ideas were not well understood, and his highly influential impact on psychiatry has been partially shrouded in mystery. Having gained access to previously sealed patient records as well as Meyer’s personal correspondence, and having offered such a careful and thoughtful analysis of these precious archival materials, Lamb provides historians of the behavioral and social sciences with a coveted window into Meyer’s thinking and decision making.

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.

Our congratulations to Dr. Lamb! Find out more about her work here.

And find the winning volume here.

JHBS early view: Neurasthenia and Patient-Psychiatrist Interactions in Pre-war America

JHBSThe Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has published an article online-first by Susan Lamb. It’s titled ‘My resisting getting well: Neurasthenia and subconscious conflict in patient-psychiatrist interactions in prewar America.’

The abstract reads as follows:

This study examines experiences of individual patients and psychiatrists in the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins between 1913 and 1917. The dynamics of these patient-psychiatrist interactions elucidate the well-known conceptual shift in explanations of mental illness during the twentieth century, from somatic models rooted in the logic of “neurasthenia” and damaged nerves to psychodynamic models based on the notion of “subconscious conflict.” A qualitative analysis of 336 cases categorized as functional disorders (a catchall term in this period for illnesses that could not be confirmed as organic diseases), shows that patients explained their symptoms and suffering in terms of bodily malfunctions, and, particularly, as a “breakdown” of their nervous apparatus. Psychiatrists at the Phipps Clinic, on the other hand, working under the direction of its prominent director, Adolf Meyer, did not focus their examinations and therapies on the body’s nervous system, as patients expected. They theorized that the characteristic symptoms of functional disorders—chronic exhaustion, indigestion, headaches and pain, as well as strange obsessive and compulsive behaviors—resulted from a distinct pathological mechanism: a subconscious conflict between powerful primal and social impulses. Phipps patients were often perplexed when told their physical symptoms were byproducts of an inner psychological struggle; some rejected the notion, while others integrated it with older explanations to reconceptualize their experiences of illness. The new concept also had the potential to alter psychiatrists’ perceptions of disorders commonly diagnosed as hysteria, neurasthenia, or psychoneuroses. The Phipps records contain examples of Meyer and his staff transcending the frustration experienced by many doctors who had observed troubling but common behaviors in such cases: morbid introspection, hypochondria, emotionalism, pity-seeking, or malingering. Subconscious conflict recast these behaviors as products of “self-deception,” which both absolved the sufferer and established an objective clinical marker by which a trained specialist could recognize functional disorder. Using individual case studies to elucidate the disjunction between patients’ and psychiatrists’ perspectives on what all agreed were debilitating illnesses, this analysis helps to illuminate the origins of a radical transformation in psychiatric knowledge and popular culture in the twentieth century—from somatic to psychodynamic explanations of mental illness.

The article can be found here.

Special Issue of Medical History on Skill in Medicine & Science

MDHThe new issue of Medical History  (guest edited by Nicholas Whitfield and Thomas Schlich at the Social Studies of Medicine program at McGill) is focused on the theme of skill in the history of medicine and science. The editorial is historiographically interesting as a survey of skill as an historical category (among many relevant to both the histories of medicine and psychology, including the history of observation, objectivity, emotion, and the senses).

Additionally, articles of interest include those about: Adolf Meyer’s influence on 20th century psychiatric clinical skills; the “discourse of skills” used to establish post-War British neuropathology; the norms of conduct within the first generation of neurosurgeons 1900-1930; and the debates between animal behaviorists and molecular biologists on best practices in the experimental manipulation of mouse DNA  (and the interpretation thereof). There are also a number of pertinent reviews on books about: insanity and colonialism in post-emancipation Caribbean; gender and class in turn of the 20th century British asylums; and the analysis of Nazi psychology at Nuremberg.


Selected abstracts read as follows: Continue reading Special Issue of Medical History on Skill in Medicine & Science

New Book: S. D. Lamb’s Pathologist of the Mind


Historian of Medicine S. D. Lamb has recently published Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry. As described on the Johns Hopkins University Press website,

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 the hospital 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 academic disciplines at the country’s foremost medical school. 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. His convoluted theory of “psychobiology,” along with his notoriously ineffective attempts to explain it in print, continue to baffle many clinicians. Pathologist of the Mind aims to rediscover Meyerian psychiatry by eavesdropping on Meyer’s informal and private conversations with his 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.

Full details on the volume can be found here.

New Issue: Psychologia Latina

The May 2011 issue of Psychologia Latina, an e-supplement of The Spanish Journal of Psychology, devoted to the Theory and History of Psychology in Spain, Portugal and Latin America, has just been released. The issue includes five articles, all of which are freely available online. Among the topics addressed in the issue are the development of comparative psychology in the Hispanic world, the development of the biopsychopedagogic card, and the correspondence of Adolf Meyer (right) with Spanish psychologists. Titles, authors, and English language abstracts follow below.

“Naturalistic Observation in the Hispanic World and its Contribution to the Development of Comparative Psychology,” by Javier Campos Bueno, Pedro Montoya, and Niels Birbaumer. The abstract reads,

The observation and descriptions of animal’s behavior and emotions from the New World began shortly after the arrival of Spaniards in America. The discovery of the Indian natives and completely unknown species in Europe sparked a great interest in pioneers like Álvarez Chanca, Fernández de Oviedo, Cieza de León, Sahagún, Francisco Hernández, Acosta, Cobo or much later by Azara. In our opinion, these studies provided the basis for the study of animal behavior and emotions in the New and the Old World and allowed a new understanding of the Natural History and the relationship between structure and function. It is likely that these findings were crucial for the work of Charles Darwin three Centuries later. Moreover, it is suggested that the future development of Comparative Psychology based on Darwin and Romanes work, based its roots in the work and observations of these early pioneers. Continue reading New Issue: Psychologia Latina