H. Steven Moffic, MD, Receives Humanitarian Award at APA Annual Meeting


H. Steven Moffic, MD, received the Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award at the 2024 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting. Here’s what he spoke about during his acceptance.


On Monday May 6, H. Steven Moffic, MD, was bestowed with the Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award at the 2024 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting for his extraordinary work in advancing human rights.

“We celebrate the remarkable achievement of H. Steven Moffic, MD—his dedication and passion,” said Aidaspahic Mihajlovic, MD, MS, who presented him with the award on behalf of the American Association for Social Psychiatry.

Surrounded by his family—his wife, sister, grandchildren—friends, and a full room of onlookers, Moffic shared personal experiences, connecting them to broader themes like cultural narratives, the Holocaust, and valuing individuals from other cultures. He reflected on his birthday and its relation to other important dates, while discussing his family history and its influence on his perspective. He emphasized the significance of social psychiatry in understanding and treating mental health issues, highlighting the importance of relationships and the underestimation of the therapeutic alliance. He argued that social psychiatry is crucial in addressing the new problem of technology in relationships and advocated for collaboration with other fields to develop effective interventions and treatments.

“We need psycho-social pathologies,” said Moffic, before beginning his speech. “If you get nothing out of this, that is enough.”

To demonstrate the importance of human connection in the therapeutic alliance, he shared an important moment in his career with the audience: “Maybe 20 years ago, I went out into the waiting room of our clinic to pick up a new patient. I knew she was a black lady, but that is about all I knew about her. I went up and brought her into the room. She said, ‘I am so glad you are my psychiatrist.’ I said, ‘Thank you, but why are you happy?’ And she said, ‘Well, you are the only psychiatrist that came out there and smiled when they saw their patient.’ That was the whole alliance right from the get-go. That small little thing of smiling to my new patient. It is so important to carry that feeling through your whole treatment with people.”

For him, treating patients is much, much more than a prescription, a few minutes in the office. “I would put humanitarian issues into Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You go from safety and security, self-esteem all the way up to self-actualization and transcendence. I think it is the goal of everybody, all humans, to go up that ladder. Obviously, that does not happen. But I think that should be kind of one of our focuses in social psychiatry to help people go up the ladder.”

Despite the strides Moffic has made, he is still concerned about today’s pressing social issues: homophobia, sexism, ageism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. “To use it as an example, homosexuality was not completely removed as a DSM classification until 1987. Homosexual citizens began to protest, and then homosexual psychiatrists undercover did too, though it was dangerous to their careers. Eventually, we got to the acceptance of gay marriage. Does that mean homophobia is gone? Certainly not. But it is definitely less normalized.”

This award is not the first Moffic has won. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the APA, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991.

If you are interested in reading more from Moffic, he is the editor of 4 different volumes on religion and psychiatry (3 available now and 1 forthcoming), or you can check out his daily columns, “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News,” right here with Psychiatric Times.

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