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Adolf Meyer

Founding Director of the Phipps Clinic  |  Institutional affiliation: 1908–1950

Adolf Meyer

Adolf Meyer was not the first psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. That distinction would fall to Henry Hurd, who presided over the birth of the Phipps Clinic with Meyer, then 42, as its first leader, Meyer was, by some accounts, an exacting person to work for and lectured in impenetrable prose. He did not discover the cause or cure of any serious mental illness. Unlike his contemporary Sigmund Freud, his ideas about the psyche did not transform art and academia.

What made Meyer great?

Meyer saw the Phipps Clinic as something more than an asylum, where people with severe mental illnesses could find a safe haven. He saw it as an opportunity to study the real world influences that deprived an individual of reason, and to find practical ways to help such an individual live once again in society. Meyer's department hosted a ferment of psychobiological and behavioral research, concerned with knowing, exploring, and explaining the mind and body in action.

Meyer and his psychobiological approach to mental illness laid down the major themes for Hopkins psychiatry that have persisted to this day. The Phipps Clinic remains a place that hesitates to follow the latest trends until they prove their practical value. Hopkins thus stands apart from the mainstream of psychiatric thinking; perhaps the only place left in the country where dominant mode of thinking in modern psychiatry is treated as one hypothesis, or perspective, among several essential ways of thinking about a patient's problems.

Dean MacKinnon, M.D.