Psychiatry has played a significant role in the extensive history of The Mount Sinai Hospital. One of the first psychiatry outpatient clinics in a general hospital was opened here in 1913, and a further pioneering venture was the establishment in 1945 of one of the earliest psychiatric inpatient units in a general hospital. This long-standing importance of psychiatric care at Mount Sinai has paralleled and helped foster the development of a remarkably large and diverse set of clinical programs, a commitment to education, and the establishment of groundbreaking research, all housed in an academic Hospital and Medical School.

The Mount Sinai Hospital

The Hospital's psychiatric case records date back to 1852, when the first Jewish immigrants with mental illnesses were admitted to the Hospital. [Click here for the history of the Mount Sinai Hospital]. Though, the real story of the Department of Psychiatry begins 40 years later, in 1893, when a young immigrant named Dr. Bernard Sachs was asked to consult on a few cases. Sachs had trained in Vienna and was among the first doctors to share the intriguing new theories of his friend, Dr. Sigmund Freud, with his American colleagues. Sachs was best known for helping describe Tay-Sachs disease, but his family fortune (his brother founded the Goldman-Sachs investment company) allowed for the construction of the Hospital's first neurology wing, boasting 20 beds, at the turn of the century.

Three years later, in 1896, the Hospital opened the first private outpatient psychiatric clinic in the city. The director was psychoanalyst Dr. Clarence P. Obendorf, one of the founders of the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute. Obendorf had trained at Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital, and his mentor, Dr. A. A. Brill, had been among the few who had traveled to hear Sigmund Freud lecture at Clark University in 1909.

Mount Sinai 1904

Sachs' 20-bed neurology ward treated only an occasional psychiatric patient (many such patients were still being sent either to jail or to state asylums). However, the next neurology chair changed the patient mix. In 1920, Dr. Israel Strauss joined the staff with plans to create a facility for patients with mental illness. He did so, but he located the hospital outside of Manhattan—first in Westchester County, and later in Queens where it continues as the Hillside Hospital of Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Strauss passed the torch to Dr. Israel Wechsler, who decided to expand the role of psychiatry in the neurology department even further. 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 psychiatric care in general medicine. Thus, the field of consultation-liaison psychiatry was born at Mount Sinai, with psychiatrists in the 1930s on the floors of the Hospital helping in the care of cancer and heart patients. Their assigned role was to help patients come to terms with their illnesses and strengthen the bonds with their doctors.

Ralph Kaufman, M.D.

After World War II psychiatrists recognized the need for psychiatry to be separate from neurology in order to flourish as a profession. In 1945, with interest in psychiatry growing nationally, Dr. M. Ralph Kaufman arrived to chair the new psychiatry department. In addition to continuing consultations on the medicine and surgical services, a ward for psychosomatics was opened to treat patients with such illnesses as asthma, headaches, and peptic ulcers.

Marvin Stein, M.D.

Psychoanalytic theories and treatments were emphasized in the 1960s. However, the success of newly-discovered pharmacological treatments—especially for the most seriously ill—led to an interest in biological studies of psychiatric disorders. When Marvin Stein, MD became Chair in 1971, he fostered the research activities of the department, including the recruitment of Kenneth Davis, MD, who led multi-disciplinary studies of schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease.

In 1987, Dr. Kenneth Davis became Chair himself. 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 continue to flourish in schizophrenia, personality disorders, autism, depression, alcohol dependence, attention deficit disorders, impulsive and compulsive disorders, stress disorders, geriatrics, 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. 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 as well as Dean of Icahn School of Medicine.

Under the leadership of recent chairs, Jack Gorman, MD and Eric Hollander, MD, the department maintained and expanded programs in the many areas listed above. In addition, with the recruitment of Dennis Charney, MD, previously the Chief of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at NIMH, the department developed an extensive and innovative program in mood and anxiety disorders research. Dr. Charney has since been appointed Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine, and he remains active in leading the substantial research efforts he founded.

In child and adolescent psychiatry, the department developed programs in eating disorders, health services research, and traumatic stress disorders. Drs. Davis, Gorman, and Hollander developed a formalized affiliation with the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and added core foundation programs in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The department expanded consultation-liaison and HIV psychiatry, adding new faculty and new grants. It has also expanded research in translational neuroscience, concurrent with the medical school’s creation of the Brain Institute under the leadership of Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist who is Director of the Department of Neuroscience and a pioneer in the fields of epigenetics, substance abuse, and translational research.

In 2009, continuing its ongoing growth in clinical care and translational research interests, the Department of Psychiatry entered a new era with the appointment of Wayne Goodman, MD as Chair. Dr. Goodman will expand clinical research programs, including his own work on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, deep brain stimulation, and other novel neuro-stimulation therapies. He will also expand basic research programs in conjunction with Dr. Eric Nestler at the Brain Institute. Additionally, Dr. Goodman plans to develop clinical centers of excellence in a variety of areas, linked both to research and to the education of clinical specialists.

Overall, the department has opened up new opportunities for medical students and residents in clinical and research programs. The educational programs at Mount Sinai continue to attract the finest medical students, residents, and fellows in psychiatry as evidenced by their frequent listing in the roster of national awards.

Contact Us

Tel: 212-659-8734

Icahn School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
Box 1230
One Gustave L. Levy Place
New York, NY 10029