Adolf Meyer (1866-1950)

Adolf Meyer

Adolf Meyer was an early 20th century psychiatrist who advocated a psychobiological approach for helping patients. 

Professional Life

Adolf Meyer was born on September 13, 1866 in Niederweningen, Switzerland, near Zurich. He studied with several neuropathologists throughout Europe, before completing his medical degree from the University of Zurich. He moved to America in 1892 and began his professional career at the University of Chicago, where he taught and practiced neurology.

Meyer worked at several psychiatric hospitals in the states, including the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane in Kankakee, Illinois and the State Lunatic Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. Later, he was invited to head New York State’s Pathological Institute in 1902, and he was directly responsible for transforming insane asylums into mental hospitals and for renaming the institute the Psychiatric Institute.

Meyer also served as professor of psychopathology at Cornell Medical College from 1904–1909 and chairman of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University from 1910–1941. The university established the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in 1913, and Meyer was appointed as director. The clinic was the first inpatient hospital in the United States for people with mental illness. Meyer was a charter member of the American Psychiatric Association and acted as its president in 1928. His book, Psychobiology: A Science of Man, was published posthumously in 1957. Meyer died in Maryland in 1950.

Contribution to Psychology

Meyer was one of the most influential psychiatrists of the early 20th century, and he played a pivotal role in popularizing the discipline. A dedicated empiricist, Meyer argued that the field of psychiatry could have the best impact if patients' symptoms were carefully and meticulously logged. He compiled detailed case studies and life histories on his patients, with assistance from his wife, Mary Potter Brooks, who was a pioneer in psychiatric social work.

Meyer’s concept of psychobiology argued that social, psychological, and biological factors were all relevant to a patient's well-being, and that mental illness could stem from the emotional experiences of a person. His views stood in contrast to the then commonly held assumption that behavioral disorders were a product of neurological abnormalities or lesions on the brain.

Meyer drew connections between physical factors and psychological reactions, and these views greatly influenced the field of psychiatry to include psychotherapeutic methods. He believed that psychiatric problems resulted from problems with personality, often caused by early trauma, environmental issues, or social problems. He argued that a person's daily life, environment, and habits could affect mental health, and he advocated community services designed to help people cope with the stresses of daily life. Meyer was a strong proponent of employing psychiatrists in prisons, schools, and other community settings.


  1. Adolf Meyer. (1974). Dictionary of American Biography. Retrieved from
  2. Adolf Meyer (American psychiatrist). (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from
  3. Wallace, Edwin R., IV. (2007). Adolph Meyer's Psychobiology in Historical Context, and its Relationship to George Engel's Biopsychosocial Model. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology : PPP, 14(4), 347-353, 382. Retrieved from

Last Update: 07-20-2015

Advanced Search
Subscribe to's Email Newsletter

Free Student Membership

Are you a college or university student? Sign up here for a free student membership with