Anxiety Disorders Expert

Hoehn-Saric pushed beyond Freudian thinking.

Published in Hopkins Medicine - Fall 2022

A giant in the field of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, Rudolf Hoehn-Saric, former director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and former director of Psychiatric Outpatient Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, died April 28 at age 93.

He spent 49 years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, joining the Department of Psychiatry as an instructor in 1962 and retiring as a professor emeritus in 1999.

James Potash, director of the Department of Psychiatry, says Hoehn-Saric advanced a multi-faceted view of OCD and anxiety disorders that incorporated biology and behavior, as well as psychotherapy, which is now the modus operandi of approaching these illnesses.

“He came of age in an era when Freudian thinking about early childhood influences as determining factors dominated the field,” Potash says. “Rudi understood that this was only part of the equation, and that other approaches needed to be incorporated if we were to fully understand anxiety and effectively treat it. It took fortitude to swim against the tide early on.”

Born in Graz, Austria, Hoehn-Saric’s childhood was colored by transition from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and end of World War I through the First Austrian Republic to the Anschluss (Nazi Germany annexing Austria) and World War II. He attended 12 schools in his youth, eventually finishing his studies and medical school at the University of Graz in 1954. He completed a psychiatric residency in Montreal, followed by a fellowship in clinical psychopharmacology at Johns Hopkins, then a residency in neuropsychiatry in Vienna.

He wrote multiple books and peer-reviewed papers, and his research continues to impact the biology and therapy of anxiety and OCD. He was also at the forefront of advances in neuroimaging methods.

Gerald Nestadt, director of the OCD Clinic, says Hoehn-Saric was the “sole authority” on anxiety and OCD on the Johns Hopkins faculty for decades and a mentor to many physicians.

“His teaching influenced generations of trainees,” says Nestadt, who holds a professorship established in 2012 to honor Hoehn-Saric and his wife, Evanne, also a Hopkins-trained physician.

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