Intended for healthcare professionals


Leon Eisenberg

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 18 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4615
  1. Ned Stafford

    Transformed child psychiatry by advocating research into developmental problems

    Early in his medical career, in the mid-1950s, Leon Eisenberg became fascinated with the childhood mind. Wanting to know more, he broke free from the shackles of the Freudian psychoanalytic dogma that dominated child psychiatry at the time to conduct groundbreaking biologically based research of childhood developmental problems. This research included the first randomised clinical drug trials in child psychiatry.

    “I think what Leon brought to the field was a different way of thinking—thinking out of the box,” said David DeMaso, chairman of psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “He was thinking in terms of biology, of evidence based treatment, way before anybody else. His was a bio-psycho-social model at a time when psychoanalytical thinking was the norm.”

    Eisenberg’s direct involvement as a child psychiatry researcher was over by 1967, when he moved to Harvard Medical School as chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. But in a dozen years he had helped transform the discipline.

    Beginning in 1952 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Eisenberg began a fellowship under Leo Kanner, the …

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