History

This modern, expansive psychiatry department has risen from a long history of commitment to mental disorders. While the psychiatric case records date back to 1855 when the first Jewish immigrants with mental illness were admitted to the hospital, the real story of the Department of Psychiatry begins almost 40 years later.

In 1890, a young physician named Dr. Bernard Sachs was asked to establish an out-patient clinic in Neurology and to consult on any in-patient cases. Sachs trained in Vienna and was among the first doctors to be aware of the intriguing new theories of his colleague there, Dr. Sigmund Freud. Sachs is best known for helping describe Tay-Sachs disease, but his family fortune—his brother was brought in by Goldman to form the Goldman-Sachs investment company—allowed for the construction of the hospital’s first neurology wing, boasting 12 beds, at the turn of the century.

Under Sachs and the Department of Neurology, in 1913 the hospital opened the first outpatient psychiatric clinic in a general hospital in the city. The director was psychoanalyst Dr. Clarence P. Oberndorf, one of the founders of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Oberndorf had trained at Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital, and his mentor, Dr. A. A. Brill, had been among the few who had traveled to Clark University in 1909 to hear Freud speak. Although Freud never returned to America, his ideas became the foundation for psychiatry in New York.

Sachs’ neurology department (1890-1925) treated only an occasional psychiatric patient (state asylums were then the model of care for such patients) and over the years Sachs became critical of psychoanalysis.

The next Director of Neurology, Israel Strauss (1925-1938) was more attuned to the value of psychiatry. In 1920, Strauss had joined the staff with plans to create a facility for patients with mental illness. These would be patients not sick enough to enter state hospitals but too ill to remain at home. On a hill in Hastings, in Westchester County, Strauss opened a spacious residence for psychiatrically ill patients, complete with gardens and tennis courts. Group therapy was introduced there in 1930. In 1942 this moved to Queens and expanded to become Hillside Hospital, now a part of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Back in Manhattan, Strauss built up the role of psychiatry within the department of Neurology. In 1938 he passed the torch to Dr. Israel Wechsler, who also supported psychiatric work. Wechsler brought in Dr. Lawrence Kubie, an analyst trained at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, who had plans to use Mount Sinai as a blueprint for psychiatry in a general hospital.

So it was that psychiatrists in the 1930s roamed the floors of the hospital, stopping to plumb the souls of cancer and heart patients. Indeed psychiatrists attended rounds in every department of the hospital, probing, talking, and thinking. Their job was to help patients come to terms with their illnesses and strengthen the bonds with their doctors.

After the war, the Mount Sinai trustees decided to separate psychiatry from neurology. In 1945, with interest in psychiatry growing nationally, Dr. M. Ralph Kaufman arrived to head the new department. A ward for psychosomatics was opened, and a fleet of area psychiatrists would make rounds and provide advice on a variety of ills from asthma to headaches to peptic ulcers.

The psychoanalytic approach steamed ahead well into the 1960s. However, when Dr. Marvin Stein took over in 1971, medicine had changed the face of mental illness; doctors were discovering more biologically based clues as to what was causing the behaviors and emotions that plagued the people who filled their beds. As a new chair, Stein had enough money in his budget to hire only one full-time academic psychiatrist. For the next 15 years, he added new staff and research laboratories, slowly building on the new science of the mind and ushering in the age of biological  psychiatry, not to supplant, but to join older theories in union.

In 1987, Dr. Kenneth Davis became Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. His leadership ushered in a period of growth and expansion unparalleled in the Department’s history. Space was upgraded, programs enlarged, and the full-time faculty grew to well over one hundred. Dr. Davis’ guidance led to the creation of a multitude of internationally respected programs that now flourish in schizophrenia, personality disorders, autism, depression, alcoholism, attention deficit disorders, impulsive and compulsive disorders, stress disorders, geriatric psychiatry, memory disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the Department became home to a variety of programs in such areas as molecular genetics, neuroimaging, community psychiatry, health services research, and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy. Most of these programs house ambitious research programs as well. Due to his outstanding accomplishments in the Department of Psychiatry, in 2003 Dr. Kenneth Davis was named President and CEO of The Mount Sinai Health System.

In 2003, Dr. Jack Gorman became Chair of the Department of Psychiatry. Under his leadership, the Department maintained and expanded programs in schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic stress disorders. In addition, the Department developed an extensive and innovative program in mood and anxiety disorders research. In child and adolescent psychiatry, the Department developed programs in eating disorders, health services research, and traumatic stress disorders. Additionally, the Department developed a stronger affiliation with the New York Psychoanalytical Institute and added core foundation programs in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Finally, the Department also expanded research in translational neuroscience and neuroimaging.

Between 2006 and 2008, Dr. Eric Hollander, became Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, and introduced a number of initiatives under his leadership. Innovative Centers of Excellence, including Alzheimer’s, Autism, Child Psychiatry, Schizophrenia, and Compulsive/Impulsive and Mood and Anxiety Disorders, were designed to provide a bridge between research and clinical activities.

Overall, the Department has opened up new opportunities for medical students and residents in research programs. It continues to attract the finest medical students and fellows in psychiatry and child psychiatry as evidenced by their dominance in the roster of national awards.

The Department of Psychiatry has expanded consultation and HIV psychiatry, adding new faculty in neuroimaging and genetics, and NIH grant funding continues to rise.


Contact Us

Icahn School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry
Tel: 212-659-8838
Fax: 212-996-8931

Chair's Report

Learn about the Department of Psychiatry's latest developments in education, research and clinical care.

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