Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry
by S. D. Lamb
After his appointment as first Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Adolf Meyer became the most authoritative and eminent psychiatrist in the United States during the five decades that followed. Universally acknowledged as making psychiatry part of science-based medicine, his influence has continued to shape the character of American psychiatry up to the present day. S. D. Lamb’s ground-breaking work, Pathologist of the Mind, is the first comprehensive, archive-based study of Adolf Meyer’s transformative ideas and practices. Using his private correspondence and uniquely detailed case histories of his psychiatric patients, Lamb examines the day-to-day clinical practices and training that he instituted at Johns Hopkins to achieve his overall objective: to develop a clinical specialty of psychiatry in the United States. Meyer attempted to harmonize the rigorous methods of scientific medicine with his concept of “psychobiology” in which the person was viewed as a biological organism and common mental illnesses were considered adaptive failure. As the first historian granted unrestricted access to these exceptional medical records, Lamb offers new perspectives on psychiatry’s most misunderstood founding father. This rediscovery of Meyerian psychiatry, moreover, illuminates the discipline’s origins in evolutionary biology as well as the emergent university hospital system and social progressivism of the early twentieth century. Lamb’s cinematic accounts of daily operations in the Phipps Clinic between 1913 and 1917 also give historical voice to the experience of mental illness, its sufferers, and their families a century ago.