Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5cfd469876-7frv5 Total loading time: 0.273 Render date: 2021-06-24T15:03:18.187Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true }

Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry By S. D. Lamb. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014. US$44.95 (hb). 299 pp. ISBN 9781421414843

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Allan Beveridge
Affiliation:
Queen Margaret Hospital, Whitefield Road, Dunfermline, Fife KY12 OSU, UK. Email: allanbeveridge@nhs.net
Corresponding
E-mail address:
Rights & Permissions[Opens in a new window]

Abstract

Type
Columns
Copyright
Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2015 

In the first half of the 20th century Adolf Meyer was the most powerful and influential psychiatrist in America, yet today he is almost forgotten. In this book, the medical historian S. D. Lamb attempts to account both for Meyer's rise to prominence and for ‘his strange disappearance’ from American psychiatry.

Born in 1866 in Switzerland, Meyer qualified in medicine in Zurich and conducted pathological research under August Forel at the famous Burgholzli Hospital. He studied in London with the eminent neurologist John Hughling Jackson who emphasised the concept of the dynamic functioning of the nervous system and the importance of evolutionary theory to understanding disease. In Paris Meyer attended lectures by Jean-Martin Charcot who demonstrated the intimate relation between a patient's life history and their symptoms. Later Meyer was to visit Heidelberg where he observed Kraepelin's practice of taking meticulous and detailed records of his patients. All of these experiences shaped how Meyer approached the care of the mentally ill.

At the age of 26, Meyer emigrated to the USA where his career blossomed. In 1909 he was appointed as psychiatrist-in-chief at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, an event which his biographer tells us singled him out as America's pre-eminent psychiatrist. Around the same time, he coined the term with which his name is associated: ‘psychobiology’. Meyer held that mental activity was a biological function and inveighed against those who maintained that mind and body were separate entities. Despite his emphasis on biology, he was critical of hereditary explanations of mental illness. Lamb makes a convincing argument that Meyer adopted this stance because his mother had a serious psychotic illness which required institutionalisation at the Burgholzli. At one stage he was told his mother was ‘incurable’, although she did, in fact, recover. Meyer felt a genetic approach condemned the patient to therapeutic nihilism. He was also struck by the fact that his mother's breakdown was psychologically understandable. In his work he was to emphasise that a patient's life experiences played a crucial part in the development of symptoms. Lamb's examination of Meyer's highly detailed case notes shows just how studiously he followed this precept.

Meyer was responsible for promoting the work of both Kraepelin and Freud in America, though he was subsequently very critical of psychoanalysis. Meyer's colleague D. K. Henderson, who became professor of psychiatry at Edinburgh, introduced Meyer's ideas to a British audience in his widely read Textbook of Psychiatry which he co-wrote with R. D. Gillespie. Lamb contends that part of the reason for Meyer's fading profile is that his writing style was execrable. He was unable to convey his ideas and left even admirers baffled as to what he was trying to say. Another reason is that many of his clinical practices were adopted into the mainstream and their origins forgotten. Written in a somewhat dry, academic manner, this book nevertheless provides a valuable reassessment of a pioneering psychiatrist and places him in the context of the psychiatric culture of his time.

Submit a response

eLetters

No eLetters have been published for this article.
You have Access

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry By S. D. Lamb. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014. US$44.95 (hb). 299 pp. ISBN 9781421414843
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry By S. D. Lamb. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014. US$44.95 (hb). 299 pp. ISBN 9781421414843
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry By S. D. Lamb. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2014. US$44.95 (hb). 299 pp. ISBN 9781421414843
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *