Robert a. Cohen interviewed by Thomas A. Ban Baltimore, Maryland, November. 2, 2000

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Interviewed by Thomas A. Ban

Baltimore, Maryland, November.2, 2000

TB: It is November 2, 2000. I am Thomas Ban. We are in the house of Robert Cohen* in Baltimore to interview him for the archives of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. Could you tell us where and when were you born, something about your childhood, early interests and education?

RC: I was born in Chicago, and as I mentioned to you before we started this interview I was run over by a light truck at the age of ten and had a fracture of my femur very close to its head. The truck ran over my abdomen and I was in the hospital for ten weeks, something that would be impossible now. At first the doctors were quite concerned as to whether I would make it or not, but actually the only serious thing that happened was the fracture. After two weeks in the hospital it was clear that I was going to recover. But the recovery was rather slow and this hospital was the hospital in which I was born. The nurses and interns had spoiled me in the hospital. They spent a lot of time with me, joking with me, talking to me about various things. And by the time I left the hospital I decided that I wanted to be like them; so I began to think about how I could possibly become a doctor.

TB: How old were you when this happened, ten?

RC: Ten.

TB: So, it happened in 1919, right?

RC: My family was a typical family of that time. My grandparents had come to the United States from Prussia, around the 1880s. We were two boys and five girls, and like many other Jewish families the girls went to high school and the boys went to college. I knew that I was going to go to college from the time that I can remember. My mother had hoped that I would be a lawyer, but I rebelled and became a doctor. After graduating from high school I went for a year and a half to Crane Junior College, which was the Municipal College of Chicago. When I was admitted as a junior at the University of Chicago I registered for a new course in physiology, which was given by Ralph Gerard. Gerard had just come back from a National Research Council scholarship in Europe, where he had worked for six months with Dennis Hill measuring the speed of the nervous impulse.

This was a fascinating course with no formal lectures. The first day, when Gerard had come into the laboratory to a relatively small group of about twenty students he was wearing a rather dilapidated lab coat with many acid holes in it, and smoking a big fat cigar, he asked us: “What is life?” And we began to try to give our answers to this unexpected question. And whatever we answered he asked: “how would you prove it?” Then he asked the students to criticize each other; that, to make a long story short, stirred up my interest. Looking back at it, he really opened a new world for me. In the laboratory we saw an assortment of animals. While he was moving around he got us talking and ultimately we had to choose our research project. There were two requirements. One, we had to get his permission to start it, and two we had to get his permission to stop it. My project was to measure the blood pressure of a frog. We made a little hemostat to register the blood pressure, then gave some adrenaline and found sometimes that the adrenaline made the blood pressure go down instead of up. We never found the answer why. We also found the paper by Roy Hoskins, which indicated that it could have something to do with the biochemical state of the nervous system at the time the adrenaline was given.

Gerard then became my counselor in my courses. In some way I feel grateful to him, because certainly what happened to me would not have happened with anyone else. But he also deprived me of an education because he advised me which courses to take. He decided that maybe one course of philosophy would be useful, so I had a course in philosophy. I had also a course in English history, because my father had been born in London, and I wanted to know something about English history. And I took one course in anthropology from Edwards Supeer, who was a distinguished anthropologist. All the rest were courses in science and languages, i.e., German and French, in order to get a PhD.

I finished the first year of medical school education before I graduated from college. During my first year of being in medical school, I had already taken many of the courses that my other colleagues were taking, so I began to do research then; Wade Marshall and I shared a laboratory. The people at Washington University had just demonstrated the shape of the nervous impulse and Wade was building a machine to reproduce that. And I was trying to see whether it was possible to restore conduction in nerves if one used a hydrogen acceptor rather than oxygen.

TB: Am I correct that we are in the early 1930s at the University of Chicago and that the findings of your research were to become your first paper?

RC: Yes. We demonstrated that it was possible to restore conduction with metadine (3-phenyl piperidine) and we published it in a paper.

TB: Do you remember the journal it was published in?

RC: Probably the American Journal of Pharmacology.

TB: And what did you do after that project?

RC: I became interested in studies of nerve metabolism and moved over from the laboratory that was on the east side of Gerard’s office, to the metabolic laboratory on the west side of his office. There was a girl there that I was very attracted to, I must say, and she was also doing metabolic studies and between us we shared an apparatus. Mabel had it Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I had it Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And ultimately, in 1933, we got married. She was a year behind me in school, but we both finished at the same time in 1935. Let me go back for a moment. Before graduating I was seriously wondering whether I should get my medical degree. Nineteen-thirty-four was the depth of the Depression. But Dr. [Anton J.] Carlson, who was the Chairman of the Department of Physiology, strongly advised me to get my PhD in physiology and go on to complete my studies for an MD as well. Jobs were very hard to get in those years. Dr. Carlson was the President of the American Association of University Professors, and he thought that one would be better off having an MD and a PhD. One of the advantages of working for a PhD was that if you became an assistant that paid a thousand dollars a year, and the tuition in those days at a medical school was three hundred and seventy five dollars a year. So, when Mabel and I got married, we had an income of two thousand dollars a year and only seven hundred and fifty went to medical school. We could live very comfortably on twelve hundred and fifty dollars, which we did. We got through medical school owing the University only six hundred dollars at the end. Everything else was paid for.

One of the courses I assisted in was Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman’s. About three years ago, Dr. Kleitman died; as you can imagine, he was one hundred and five years old. He was working on sleep. He and Aserinsky were the ones who described rapid eye movement (REM) sleep first. One day Dr. Kleitman told me to give the lecture on the physiology of behavior. I was able to read about everything that he recommended and in two hours I gave a digest of that. I thought at that time, well, wouldn’t it be interesting if somehow or other we could do studies of brain metabolism in human beings, but I had no idea how this was going to come about. This caused me to look into psychiatry as a possible field where one might get involved in research. But the University of Chicago didn’t have any psychiatry at that time. Roy Grinker was Assistant Professor of Neurology and the University had sent him to study psychiatry in Austria. He was analyzed in Vienna by Freud. He was to come back to the University and start the Department of Psychiatry. This is what he actually did, but he soon left the University and went to Michael Reese Hospital. He arrived at Michael Reese Hospital to take over the neurology service where I was an intern at the time. After his arrival all the members of the Neurology Department had resigned and Grinker took over the service and established his new Department of Psychiatry.

By the time I returned to Chicago from my internship, Margaret Wilson Gerard, the wife of Gerard, had been analyzed and became the first child analyst in Chicago. We had spoken to her and she recommended that I come east to get training in psychiatry. So I applied at Johns Hopkins where Adolf Meyer was the Professor and was accepted there. Mabel came as an intern at Baltimore City Hospital. We were thinking then of going back to Chicago after we finished our training. During that first year, we were going to the Medical Society meetings, and were fascinated by Dr Joseph Gesell’s talk, and I thought that I ought to at least find out something about psychoanalysis. So, I decided that I’d leave Phipps Clinic and go to Sheppard Pratt Hospital where Dr. Gesell was a psychoanalyst. He was also a graduate of the Union Field Seminary and had a PhD in psychology. So I suggested to Mabel, who was thinking of internal medicine, that she ought to have at least a year also at Sheppard Pratt. We started out at Sheppard with some misgivings. Dr. Meyer was a little bit angry with me at first because I went to Sheppard Pratt. But then, when he would come as a consultant they always had me take him around. Later, he wrote me a letter saying that “we were sorry to lose you, but I see that you are not lost.” We stayed at Sheppard Pratt a year and were planning to go to Chicago to continue analytic training. Back in Chicago I went to the Institute for Juvenile Research and Mabel went to Michael Reese Hospital. But we were troubled by the situation in Chicago, because there seemed to be a great deal of hostility between the two groups in psychiatry. The group in Washington seemed to be more congenial, so after a year, we came back to Sheppard Pratt Hospital.

I had joined the Naval Reserve. The recruiter from the Naval Reserve came around while I was at Hopkins and told us about the glories of serving in the Navy and said that if a war should start, they’ll call the whole group so we would serve together and that seemed like the reasonable thing to do. But in July 1941, I got a letter from the Chief of Naval Operations asking me to report for duty at Norfolk Naval Hospital, in September of 1941. This was three months before the war started. It turned out that the Chief of the Psychiatric Service at Norfolk, Dr. Kennedy, became the Senior Psychiatrist in the Navy. So, this was in a sense a great opportunity for me. Lawrence [Coleman Kolb] whom I had known from Phipps Clinic, he was in neurology when I had been there, reported for duty a couple of months after I did. And Donald Dodge, who had been chief resident at New York Neurological reported for duty also. The three of us really had a marvelous year together. Our training was not very much, but each of us had had experiences that the others did not. And we got along extraordinarily well. We turned out a tremendous amount of work. It was on that basis that Dr. Kennedy, Chief of Psychiatry, assigned us to jobs that he thought we were particularly interested in and would make the most for ourselves, and the Navy.

And then, the last year and a half of the war I was assigned to the OSS, which was a special unit that was examining people who were going overseas. There I became acquainted with a very large group of psychologists, many of whom were very gifted academically, so I got acquainted with psychology at that time. Mabel didn’t follow me around. She had gone to Chestnut Lodge to practice while I was gone and when I came out from the Navy I decided to go to Chestnut Lodge too. I was there for a year. Part of that time I did half time practice and then became interested in the treatment that they were attempting to do, with very sick schizophrenic patients. I met Dr. Felix at that time, because I was a member of Frank Braceland’s examining team on the American Board. Felix was very interested in psychoanalysis. He thought that as Director of AMA he ought to know what psychoanalysis was about and so he went into psychoanalysis with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. And since I had also been analyzed by Reichmann – I can’t see any other reason why – he asked me in the summer of 1952, whether I would be interested in coming to the National Institute of Mental Health to set up the psychiatric research department.

TB: You were a psychiatrist with a background in physiology. By that time you had also published several papers.

RC: Yes. At the time I had some doubts whether psychoanalysis was something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. So I asked him what he had in mind, what sort of research. “Well we will have a building and there are going to be a hundred beds that you can have and you can do anything you want. The salary will be fifteen thousand dollars a year for you, and we might be able to get one or two other salaries and people” – but he wasn’t sure about that. “You can go anywhere in the world that you’d be interested in going; the government will send you; you can invite anybody you want to have come as a consultant and the government will pay for it. The job is full time; no teaching, certainly no practice. The building should be ready by March of 1951. We promised that we would open.”

And so, I agonized about it. It was not about the job itself, which seemed to be a fantastic opportunity, but I wondered about many things, including that I was making somewhere close to thirty thousand dollars. That didn’t bother me because Mabel was in practice and we didn’t need to have two incomes, and she said if you want to go, don’t hesitate for that reason. But I wondered how we would get anybody else to come who wasn’t in that position, where money was no object. So I talked and agonized. The Lodge was going very well then. We’d brought together quite a good staff of people. So, first, I thought “It won’t work” and I said, no, I would not come. But Felix did something which I later learned was very clever as a way of recruiting; if somebody takes a long to time to make up his mind and says no, he’ll have some doubt about it if you ask him again. So he asked me again. I felt a little bit as if Columbus had asked me to help him discover America. Would I have said, “Well, things are going so well here in Genoa that I can’t come?’”

So I went and took the chance and the one thing that I did learn is that nobody I ever hired came for less than he was already earning. I actually reported for duty on December 30, 1952. I talked to a number of senior people who were being called up at the time to serve in the Korean War, and to a lot of residents at very good places who were being called to active duty, because I thought, between the two, we’ll get good people and if they stay for two years some of them will do good work and can stay and maybe some of the others will get so involved that they’ll stay too. Then, Eisenhower ended the Korean War and all the senior people called up and asked, “Well, I don’t really have to come, do I?” And I said, “of course not.” So I started with great anxiety but determined to give it a try.

I remember the very first day, I reported as I said before, on December 30th, the very end of the year, Edward Everett and Josephine Sams, his wife, and I were sitting in an empty office; most of the people were away for the holidays and they came in and talked to me about what we were going to do and about what they would like to do. I always had a special relationship through the years with Ed Everett, who died tragically, and his wife. Ed was just a second year resident in psychiatry at that time. The first years were very very difficult, trying to bring together a more mature staff, and I had to wonder what are we going to try to do?

TB: I understood that you were invited by Robert Felix to set up the research department in psychiatry. Were you in charge of clinical investigations?

RC: Yes. Seymour Kety originally had the idea that he would bring together both the clinical and basic research staff, but he found that he was having difficulty in recruiting people. When I was introduced to Seymour, he was serving as the Scientific Director for Neurology and Psychiatry. Wade Marshall, who I knew way back from Gerard’s days, was there as the Lab Chief in Physiology; and John Clausen was there, whom I’d known at the Institute for Juvenile Research, as chief of Social and Environmental Studies. And then I became acquainted with David Shakow and told him that we needed to get some psychologists. He became very interested in helping me. I had known a whole group of psychologists from my OSS days and I would approach one after the other but they’d all say, no. And Shakow, who was trying to help, would be just as disappointed as I was after a little while; we had picked five people who we thought would do just wonderfully and would fit in, but they said no. So I got the idea that we should get Shakow himself and suggested Seymour offer him the position of joint Lab Chief in Clinical Investigations, to get him to come. And since Seymour had the same difficulty I had in getting experimental psychologists, he offered the job to Shakow. He accepted it and built up Psychology in the Institute. I gave extra money to John Clausen, who was already there in Seymour’s division, to stay.

And then we tried and tried to find a Senior Clinical Psychiatrist. I’d had my eye on David Hamburg for a couple of years and finally he agreed to come. Then, in 1954, I had gone to visit hospitals in Europe through the World Health Organization (WHO). I was sent to different places, and among them was Joel Elkes in Birmingham. I was just fascinated that he had an idea about how one would bring together biology and psychology. He had a lot more background in chemistry than I did, and so I was hoping that he might come. Actually in 1956 when he was here in that famous meeting that Jonathan Cole and Ralph Gerard arranged, Joel agreed to come to become chief of the laboratory that, tentatively at that time, we called Laboratory of Psychosomatic Medicine; it included Ed Everett, Irv Kopin, Bob Butler, who later became the Director of the Aging Institute, and Phillip Cardin, who had worked with the Wolfes at Cornell. Then when Joel got back to England, where he was just setting up an experimental psychiatry unit, they said to him, “How can you do this? Here, we built a clinic for you and now you’re leaving.” So he wrote back to us and said that it just wouldn’t be possible.

And then, one day Seymour came in and said “What would you think if I took that job?” I couldn’t think of anything that would be better, and he brought Lou Sokoloff with him. Before that, on the same trip in which I’d met Joel Elkes, when I reached Paris, I found a letter from Ed Everett who was the acting Chief of that group. He and Charles Savage were trying to find out how and where LSD work was done. Most of the work was on animals, and Ed had gone to the laboratory of Bernard Brodie to get some help finding out how LSD produced its effect. He wrote to me that there was a pharmacologist named Axelrod in Brodie’s laboratory, who would be just the right person for our laboratory. Enclosed was also a letter from David Shakow about a psychologist he met, so I wrote back from Paris to him: “go ahead offer them the jobs.” This was my contribution to hiring Julie Axelrod.

TB: It seems that you brought together a remarkable team that set the foundation of the work at the Institute. It was also you who found Joel Elkes who was to come eventually on board. You were also behind the meeting that was organized by Jonathan Cole and Ralph Gerard in 1956 on issues related to clinical methodology in psychopharmacology.

RC: In 1957, I felt that we had reached the end of the beginning. David Hamburg was now the head of Adult Psychiatry and Fritz Redlich the head of Child Psychiatry. Seymour Kety was head of what we used to call the Laboratory of Psychosomatic Medicine, and was to become the Laboratory of Clinical Sciences. Joel Elkes came back for a visit in 1956–57 and said that now he could come. We had gone over to St. Elizabeths and I had talked to Jay Hoffman, who was the assistant director there, about getting a unit for him. Then Bob Felix and I went over to see [Winfred] Overholser and he said, “how about taking a building?” I didn’t want a building, but Felix says, “Wonderful,” and so we set it up.

TB: So that was the building where Joel Elkes’ Clinical Neuropharmacology unit was set up?

RC: Yes. For the first two years we used to have a dinner meeting once a month to talk about the program. I thought that we worked very well together. Then my old friend, David Bodian, came and got Seymour to go to Johns Hopkins and take Adolf Meyer’s old job. David Hamburg went out to Stanford University and John Clausen went to the University of California at Berkeley as Director of the Institute of Human Behavior. A year later, Seymour returned and said that he just couldn’t see himself staying at Johns Hopkins, and asked me about coming back. I said “It would be wonderful if you did.” So he came back. Then they got Joel Elkes a little bit later at Johns Hopkins, and Seymour went to McLean and Harvard in Boston.

TB: How did the departure of all those senior people affect your work?

RC: Actually what happened was that the younger people who stayed took things over. After Kety left, we thought that we should offer Julie Axelrod the job but after Julie said no, Irv Kopin took over. After Joel left, Floyd Bloom was there, and after Dave Hamburg left, Lyman [C. Wynne] was there and they took the jobs and did very well. I was sorry later to see Lyman go, but by that time, Bunney, Murphy and Goodwin had begun working. Bunney had done some of the first clinical studies after Julie traced the effect of imipramine to the uptake of catecholamines in applying his findings in basic research to psychiatry. The Institute moved ahead rapidly with biological research. And, then, I decided to leave. It was not that I had lost interest, but I no longer felt confident about my knowledge in making appointments. I’d been there for twenty-nine years at that time.

TB: You jumped way ahead to 1981. Could we get back to the late 1950s or early’60s?

RC: It was in 1957, as I said before, when we got that senior group together and I thought it was the end of the beginning. Everybody seemed to be deeply involved in the opportunity to do their research. We had an extraordinarily good relationship with Jim Shannon, who was the Director of NIH. And, of course by the end of the 1950s our horizon broadened. The year I joined Bob Felix in 1952, NIMH’s budget was something like twelve million dollars. Seymour had a million dollars of that and I had a million. Seymour and I were members of the senior staff and we would go over to his office to talk about the Institute, as well as our program. I remember during those early years Dr. Felix went to Congress one year and Lister Hill said to him, “Dr. Felix, how much do you think you will come to ask us for in the years ahead?” And Dr. Felix said, “Senator Hill, I can foresee the day when I will ask you for twenty-five million dollars.” He was just shaking inside. He hadn’t cleared this with Shannon, and he didn’t know what Shannon would say, but that was our horizon.

And, gradually, our horizon spread. I thought we would have this small group of people and if they stayed together for five years or longer, we would make a very solid contribution as a group. Later on, it became clear that we were going to have vast amounts of money, and with the increase of money instead of having a relationship with each other we were having relations with people in Europe and on the West and East Coast. The idea of groups working together really went by the wayside. We gave up on that and tried to support the productive groups that we did have; we’d follow where the results would go in the direction that the research seemed to push us.

TB: I understand that with the money available in the late 1950s and early’60s activities grew rapidly in the laboratories and were extended to extramural programs. Could you tell us about the different kind of activities the Institute became involved with and about some of the outstanding laboratories and programs?

RC: Actually, it would almost be a question of saying what we didn’t do. After the Clinical Center had been open ten years there were seven clinical directors and at the anniversary each director gave an account on 10 projects. And we unanimously agreed that Julie Axelrod’s was one of the most outstanding programs. This was before he got the Nobel Prize.

TB: So Julie Axelrod’s was one of the most outstanding programs. Didn’t you also have an important program on aging? Who was in charge of that?

RC: Jim Barron. And the psychopharmacology program also did very well.

TB: Were you involved in establishing the Psychopharmacology Service Center (PSC)?

RC: Not directly.

TB: But weren’t all programs in some way under your direction?

RC: Yes. I supported the Psychopharmacology Service Center, but I can’t say that I established it.

TB: But they had your support.

RC: Well, I supported it, and brought them together and did things to try to keep them contented.

TB: The group you brought together in the PSC was instrumental in developing the methodology in clinical investigations with psychotropic drugs. They also played an important role in establishing the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. And the group you brought together at the Institute set the foundations of research at NIMH that was to lead psychiatric research during the second half of the 20th century. In the late 1960s you became director of Behavioral Research at the Institute. Could you tell us something about your activities in those years and especially in the 1970s?

RC: It would be difficult to put into words my activities in those years, but by the end of the 1970s, as I told you before, I reached a point where I felt that I could no longer contribute to the further development of the Institute.

TB: Is there anything you would like to say in general about your experiences in the Institute during 29 years?

RC: I never had a moment feeling that Shannon wasn’t completely behind me.

TB: Didn’t you serve on some of the committees of the Institute after you left?

RC: Fred Goodwin asked me to continue to serve on the promotion committee and I was very glad to do that until that committee was moved outside of the Institute.

TB: What did you do after you retired from the Institute?

RC: When I left the Institute I was asked to come back to Chestnut Lodge as the Director of Psychotherapy, which I was sort of interested in doing. They were running into problems, because the younger doctors who were engaged in psychoanalytic training didn’t want to give medications to their patients at all, and they thought that since I was a very senior person I would be able to get them to use medication.

TB: Didn’t you write a book in the 1980s on Frieda Fromm-Reichman?

RC: I wrote some papers, yes.

TB: You also wrote chapters in Comprehensive Psychiatry about manic depressive illness and schizophrenia. Are you still involved in writing papers?

RC: No. I felt that these last years have been difficult years for me. I can’t hear well with my hearing aid, and I really can’t go to meetings because I certainly can’t follow. I can’t hear well enough anymore.

TB: But during the 1980s you were still active?

RC: Actually for the ten years after NIMH I was quite active. But really for the last four years I’m not.

TB: Are you fully retired now?

RC: I really had to retire.

TB: You were born in 1909? So you are 91 years old. You’ve had a very distinguished career that started in physiology.

RC: Ralph Gerard had a very profound effect on both my wife and me. I think my wife’s sister also got a PhD and MD in his lab. I have not told you yet that my first wife, Mabel died in 1972, after we’d been married thirty-nine years. But in 1974, two years after Mabel died, I married again, and I have been married twenty-six years now. Alice, my second wife, was in the Administrative staff at NIMH. My daughter from my first marriage is Professor of Pharmacology. She just presented a paper at a conference on cholecystokinin.

TB: So she is in the footsteps of her parents doing research. You did some early research in brain metabolism.

RC: One funny thing is that at the time when I was still directly involved in research and wrote my paper on hyperthyroidism and brain oxidation, they discovered that I had a carcinoma of the thyroid.

TB: When was that?

RC: It was in late 1956 or ’57, something like that. I was fortunate that they were able to remove it. I really have had the experience of being a patient in the last years. After I retired from Chestnut Lodge when I was eighty-two, I had a good year and, then, I’ve had one thing after another.

TB: Could you tell us something more about your activities at Chestnut Lodge after you left NIMH?

RC: My work was quite interesting. Of course, by the time I returned to Chestnut Lodge the people I knew from before had left. David Rioch went to Walter Reed as Director of Neurological Research, and was quite productive. Bob Gibson went to Sheppard Pratt Hospital. He was also President of the American Psychiatric Association at a certain point in time. Otto Will went to the Riggs Foundation, as Medical Director and Alfred Stanton became Medical Director of McLean Hospital.

TB: What have you been doing since you retired from Chestnut Lodge?

RC: In the last years I’ve been reading, just reading.

TB: Is there anything else you would like to tell us? During the years you have been involved with many well know people. You also had some famous teachers. Would you like to mention some of them? You have already referred to Ralph Gerard.

RC: I had Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and Harry Stack Sullivan as my teachers, and what I remember is that when I finished discussing a patient with Frieda I had some idea of what I should do next, and when I finished discussing a patient with Sullivan I had some idea of what I had not been doing in working with the patient. While at the Phipps clinic I had Adolf Meyer as my teacher and I can remember whatever Meyer said made a very deep impression on me. During my year at Phipps, five mornings a week the whole staff attended a meeting that Dr. Meyer chaired, and each morning one of us would give a report on our work with a patient. He always made the closing remarks. And I also remember that he sometimes invited us to his home for tea on Sunday afternoon and even for dinner once or twice during the year.

TB: So he had a close relationship with the students and residents. Did you have any contact with the late Horsley Gantt while at Johns Hopkins?

RC: I had some contact with him.

TB: Did you ever take a course in administration?

RC: No, I worked my way up.

TB: In spite of that you have become a most distinguished research administrator in psychiatry, receiving numerous awards for your achievements. Now, if my recollection is correct, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter you became involved with the hostages in Iran.

RC: Oh yes, I went over to Iran and actually I still hear from one of the former hostages, every Christmas. Two of the hostages have died since.

TB: You were involved with them in the capacity of a psychiatrist?

RC: Well, yes. I guess I was the most experienced, well, certainly pretty close to being the most experienced psychiatrist to go over. It was a very moving experience. They were an impressive group of men and women.

TB: So, you were involved with the State Department in those years?

RC: The State Department organized that very impressively. Before we went over, I knew whom I would see and had talked to their wives or parents and seen the letters that they had written home. Each of us had been assigned a particular person we would see. And, then, after we got there, each evening the medical staff got together to report what had transpired. We also had group therapy sessions. I thought the State Department did an extraordinarily good job on that.

TB: During the many years you have been involved with psychiatry there were several paradigm changes in the field. You started in an era when psychiatry was dominated by Adolf Meyer’s teachings. Then it was psychodynamics, and while you were at NIMH biological psychiatry became dominant. Would you like to comment on that?

RC: Well, I would like to see the two, the psychodynamic and biological, brought together. It seems to me very sad that we aren’t paying the necessary attention to the psychodynamics of people now that we have so very much more knowledge of physiology. I’m sure there are people who are trying to bring psychodynamics and biological psychiatry together. Eric Kandel is one of them. It seems to me that the lessons Adolf Meyer taught are still, in a sense, a guiding principle.

TB: What about drugs in psychiatry? When the new drugs were introduced, did you feel that they had a major impact on treatment?

RC: Yes, and I tried to follow the literature. By the way my wife’s nephew played an important role in the discovery of Effexor (venlafaxine), one of the newer antidepressants.

TB: Let me just ask one more question: What would you like to see to happen in the future in the field?

RC: I’d like to see psychodynamic therapy and pharmacotherapy brought together.

TB: On this note we should conclude this interview with Dr. Robert Cohen, one of the most distinguished research-administrators during the second half of the 20th century, who was instrumental in setting the foundation of research at NIMH. Thank you, Dr. Cohen for sharing this information with us. Thank you very much.

* Robert A. Cohen was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1909, and received a PhD in physiology and a medical degree simultaneously in 1935 from the University of Chicago. He served at Chestnut Lodge Sanatorium in Rockville, Maryland, from 1947 to 1953, then until 1981 was a senior administrator at NIMH.

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