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Models of mental health leaders

April 30, 2014
by Steve Moffic
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There are many ways to become a great leader. One can have and use a great mentor. One can have the right skills in the right place. One can learn by mistakes and get second chances.

And, among other ways, one can learn from the memoirs and autobiographies of great leaders. Even revolutionaries learn from such books. Che Guevara recommended carrying and reading "biographies" of "past heros" while in the jungle.

The same is true in the behavioral healthcare field. Here, too, there are memoirs and autobiographies of the lives and careers of our leaders to learn from. There are not an extraordinary number of these, perhaps because traditionally there was a tendency and Freudian tradition to be more of a blank screen and thereby keep our lives private. Nevertheless, there are enough. What there are come from a variety of disciplines, including consumer peer specialists, though I could find none from social workers, psychiatric nurses, or business-trained leaders. The following is an annotated bibliography of some of the best.

  • Mel Sabshin (2008). Changing American Psychiatry: A Personal Perspective. American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

This book is both an autobiography and a history of psychiatry in the last half of the 21st century. During that period, following a time of conflict between biological and psychoanalytic psychiatrists, Dr. Sabshin became arguably the most consequential leader in psychiatry by leading the profession of psychiatry to focus more on a genuine scientific base. Less known is how he encountered anti-semitism in psychiatry in the former Soviet Union and institutional racism in psychiatry in the USA.

  • Barry Blackwell (2012). Bits and Pieces of a Psychiatrist's Life. Xlibrus Corporation.

Dr. Blackwell is perhaps the most well-known for discovering dangerous and unexpected medication "side effects" from certain anti-depressants, a forerunner of our current concerns about the long-term side effects of many different psychiatric medications. He also describes his challenging leadership in such diverse areas as the homeless and managed care. Such work seem to have taken its personal toll on him and other similar ethically-based psychiatric leaders.

  • Matthew Dumont (1994). Treating the Poor: A Personal Sojourn Through the Rise and Fall of Community Mental Health. Dymphna Press.

Dr. Dumont was a national model for community psychiatrists on how to go anywhere to build relationships with patients who usually were thought of as unreachable. He also discusses, and portrays, how an ethical leader needs to resign when standards can no longer be met.

  • Donna Norris et al editors (2012). Women in Psychiatry: Personal Perspectives. American Psychiatric Publishing.

This book conveys the challenges of becoming leaders in psychiatry by women, including women from minority backgrounds.




A colleague recommends that these books can be given as presents to administrative leaders of any age.


H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...

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