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Alfred Freedman was an eminent psychiatric educator, a leader of his profession, and a man willing to challenge public prejudice. He was also one of my closest friends.
Alfred Freedman was an eminent psychiatric educator, a leader of his profession, and a man willing to challenge public prejudice. He was also one of my closest friends. Appointed to the chairmanship of the struggling Department of Psychiatry at New York Medical College in 1960, he found limited facilities and constant challenges. His guiding philosophy in life was to reject conflict and search for a third way, by mediation. When New York City’s Department of Hospitals reeled from the aftermath of publicity on the inadequacy of the city’s psychiatric care, rather than point fingers or become defensive, he saw this as his opportunity to establish psychiatric units at Metropolitan Hospital. He developed the first Community Mental Health Center in New York City. When a crisis in marijuana and heroin abuse challenged the city, he added a drug addiction unit for adults followed a year later by a second unit for adolescents. Seeing the need for community education in substance abuse, he launched a Social and Community Division and a center for Urban Education in the Department.
He graduated from Cornell College in 1937 and received his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Minnesota in 1941. Alfred was called into the army; he studied the effects of anticholinergic drugs on humans while he served his country. During residencies in child psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in New York, he trained in psychoanalysis at the William Alanson White Institute.
He broadened the psychiatry medical school teaching program at New York Medical College to all 4 years. Needing an eclectic text that embodied his philosophy, he developed the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, a work that has been repeatedly updated and translated into many languages. In a large residency training program, he set up a flexible fellowship program for women psychiatrists, to encourage specialist certification in 4 or 5 years instead of 3.
Alfred was an enthusiastic participant in psychiatric organizations and was elected President of the American Psychopathological Association in 1971 and of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in 1972. By membership petition, he was elected President of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. During his APA tenure, he supported the efforts of gay rights groups and psychiatrists to destigmatize homosexuality and led the APA Trustees to approve the recommendation of its DSM committees that homosexuality was not a psychiatric disorder in the official nomenclature. This important step was taken in the face of strong opposition by doctrinaire Freudians. For those of us who knew him best, this was the paradigmatic example of his “third way.” Homosexuality was part of the human condition, neither a sickness nor a perversion. Recognizing the importance of legal developments in psychiatry, he created the APA’s Commission on Judicial Action and gave psychiatry a voice in the Supreme Court.
On the scientific side, he strongly supported clinical research and human experimentation. He encouraged studies of narcotic antagonists. The use of naloxone as a standard treatment in the emergency room grew out of his research. When marijuana use became a public issue in New York, he supported an international study of hashish and marijuana in users in New York and Athens. During the years that the public and colleagues disparaged my advocacy of electroshock therapy, Alfred supported the research efforts.
His interests were also international. He became an active member of the CINP in 1960. At the APA, he helped organize the visit to the Soviet Union to examine allegations of political misuse of psychiatry. At the College, he organized an annual lectureship for leading international psychiatrists. He was a member of the jury of the Anna-Monika Foundation. In these international efforts, he was strongly encouraged by his wife, Marcia, who accompanied him on his travels.
He retired from the New York Medical College in 1988, turning his attention to the international struggle to advance human rights. Despite all of his scientific and social achievements, Alfred never lost his willingness to listen, to learn, and to search for the third way. Our profession has lost not just a leader but a fine role model.
On his death, he left Marcia, his wife of 68 years, 2 sons, 3 grandchildren, and hundreds of admirers.
• Freedman AM. Almost fifty years in psychopharmacology: a memoir. In: Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E, eds. The Triumph of Psychopharmacology and the Story of CINP. Budapest: Animula Publishing; 2000:261-264.
• Grimes W. Alfred Freedman, a leader in psychiatry, dies at 94. New York Times. April 21, 2011:A25