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History of Psychiatry at Yale

The Founding of the Department of Psychiatry

Above picture is from 1935. Dr. Kahn is in the front row, second from right.

The Department of Psychiatry emerged from the combined vision of Yale Medical School Dean Charles M. Winternitz and Yale President James Rowland Angell, a psychologist. Dr. Winternitz worked to create a structure that would link existing strengths of the medical school to psychology and social sciences. To this end, he created the Institute for Human Relations, with the creation of a Department of Psychiatry at the core of this plan. Dr. Winternitz financed the establishment of the Department of Psychiatry through a 10-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation totaling $1,000,000.

The Department of Psychiatry was founded in 1930 with the recruitment of Dr. Eugen Kahn from the University of Munich, where he was the protégé of Dr. Emil Kraeplin. Dr. Kahn had been the first to demonstrate the distinct heritabilities of schizophrenia (dementia praecox) and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). Upon arriving at Yale, Dr. Kahn established the Department of Psychiatry and extended his studies to the topic of “psychopathic traits” that preceded schizophrenia, a topic known as the “schizophrenia prodrome.” Dr. Kahn led the Department of Psychiatry for 16 years.

Dr. Fritz Redlich

In 1947, a young member of the Department’s faculty, Dr. Fredrick "Fritz" C. Redlich, was selected to succeed Dr. Kahn as chair of the Department. Dr. Redlich proved to be a visionary leader of the Department of Psychiatry. Under his leadership, hospital-based psychiatry thrived under the leadership of people including Dr. Thomas Detre, who went on to establish the modern Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Daniel X. Freedman, pioneering neuroscientist and psychiatrist who served as long-standing editor of the Archives of General Psychiatry and chair of psychiatry at the University of Chicago; sociologist Kenneth Kenniston, Ph.D.; and psychoanalysts Drs. Theodore Lidz, Stephen Fleck, and Sidney Blatt. In 1966, Dr. Redlich led a groundbreaking collaboration with Gov. Abraham Ribicoff to create the Connecticut Mental Health Center, a research and training institute embedded in a community mental health center. Future leaders of the Department, including Drs. George Aghajanian and George Heninger, joined the faculty to participate in the opening of of this Center. In 1967, Dr. Redlich left the Department to become dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.

After a brief interlude during which Dr. Lidz served as acting-chair of the Department, Dr. Morton Reiser was recruited to Yale from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Dr. Reiser led the Department from 1969 to 1986. Dr. Reiser sought a synthesis of biological, psychological, and social perspectives . Under his leadership, the Department established the NIMH Mental Health Research Center, and expanded research in substance abuse, psychotherapy research, and epidemiology led by faculty including Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., Dr. Herbert Kleber, M.D., and others.

During his brief tenure, Dr. Gary Tischler followed Dr. Reiser, overseeing the opening of the Yale Psychiatric Institute in a building designed by famed architect Frank Gehry under the leadership of Dr. Thomas McGlashan. In 1987, Dr. Benjamin S. Bunney assumed the leadership of the Department. Dr. Bunney was a groundbreaking neuroscientist, the first to record the electrical activity of dopamine nerve cells in the brain. Under his leadership, the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry was established under the leadership of Dr. Eric Nestler and Ronald Duman. In 1988, Dr. Dennis Charney assumed the leadership of the Psychiatry Services at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, building a major research program in many areas. During this period, molecular genetics research began in the Depatment, led by Drs. Joel Gelernter and James Kennedy.

Dr. John Krystal

Following Dr. Bunney, the Department was led on an interim basis by Dr. William Sledge, who had been Medical Director of Yale-New Haven Psychiatry. In 2009, Dr. John Krystal was installed as the fifth chair of the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Krystal is a leader in translational neuroscience who has contributed to several areas in psychiatry, including the discovery of the rapid antidepressant effects of ketamine. Under his leadership, the Department is expanding its research portfolio in many areas, transforming its educational programs, expanding its international presence, and introducing clinical innovations in many areas. Thus, the Department continues to build on its rich history and to move forward as a leader and innovator.