Intended for healthcare professionals


Alwyn Lishman: the “father” of neuropsychiatry

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 23 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n507
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}
Photo credit: UCL Institute of Neurology

In the early 20th century, psychiatry and neurology were considered to be a single discipline, but in the wake of eminent neurologists such as Freud and Charcot, much of psychiatry became more psychoanalytical, at the expense of neurology. Some psychiatrists thereafter reportedly received minimal neurological training and some neurologists minimal psychiatric training.

Alwyn Lishman bridged the divide, fostering the development of neuropsychiatry, most famously through his landmark textbook, Organic Psychiatry. Before its publication in 1978, many patients with complex and mysterious disorders of mind and body were denied expert psychiatric care.

The story behind the book—considering its profound influence on patient care and the training of thousands of clinicians—is barely credible, making it, arguably, one of psychiatry’s greatest stories. For three years Lishman resisted approaches from Blackwell’s, the publishers, who had been reliably told that he was the person to write a book “putting the brain back into psychiatry.”

Trained in physiology, psychiatry, and neurology, Lishman told The Psychiatrist in 2012, “The reason why I finally did it was quite ridiculous. I’m slightly ashamed of this, but I wanted a Bechstein grand piano and I saw one. I got the offer of a substantial advance for …

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