As I have been reading it, I have been tweeting quotes or amended quotes from Pathologist of the mind: Adolf Meyer and the origins of American psychiatry
by Susan Lamb (who I have already quoted in a previous post
). I thought I would bring some of these tweets together to try and explain the importance of Adolf Meyer's work.
Susan's book (see her website
) is a scholarly account that the literature has needed. Meyer himself failed to be explicit in getting across his theory of psychiatry, which was called Psychobiology (eg. see my article
). Susan includes clinical material from his archives
which also helps to relate his theory to his practice.
As Susan says in her conclusion, one of the key insights is that:-
Meyer viewed mental activity and brain activity as a single biological response
She goes on, "to overlook this principle is to risk misconstruing Meyer's thinking, practice, and teaching". Or, as she says in another tweet:-
The tendency to equate the descriptor 'biological' with 'physical, bodily or somatic' can render anything Meyer said or did unintelligible
The second key insight is "to appreciate the essentially medical orientation of Meyer's thinking, practice, and teaching". For Meyer:-
Mental dysfunction, as much as brain disease, is a medical condition resulting from pathological processes
This meant that:-
Meyer framed prevalent forms of mental illness not as distinct brain diseases, as did majority of his peers, but as failed adaptation
This is why I have emphasised the views of Adolf Meyer in discussions of psychiatric diagnosis on this blog (eg. see previous post
). Meyer was also clear that:-
Brain research is comparative neurology not psychiatry
In other words, Meyer warned against going beyond statements about the person to wishful 'neurologising tautology' about the brain. Even though:-
Kraepelin was part of first wave in the generational backlash against the hegemony of brain mythology in the late 19th century
Meyer lamented the Kraepelinian craze to diagnose, classify and to generate statistics
Meyer took over the Huxleyan notion of science as being organised common sense.
Science is defined by application of rigour to observing, documenting, comparing and ordering data
Science is not defined by principles of physics or chemistry, nor by experimental techniques
Psychobiology provided basis to liberate psychiatry from dogma that explained mental activity in reductive, dualistic or deterministic terms
To emphasise, Meyer was primarily interested in the implication of these ideas for clinical practice.
Meyer was no philosopher. He was a pathologist on a mission
Susan also agrees with me in my spat with Nasser Ghaemi (see previous post
The pluralism of psychobiology was neither arbitrary nor uncritical