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Karl Menninger

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Karl Augustus Menninger (July 22, 1893 - July 18, 1990) was an American psychiatrist and a member of the famous Menninger family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

Karl Menninger was born in Topeka, Kansas. He attended Washburn University, Indiana University, and the University of Wisconsin. He was accepted to Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude in 1917. He held an internship in Kansas City, worked at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, and taught at Harvard Medical School before finally returning to Topeka in 1919. Together with his father, Charles Frederick Menninger, he founded the Menninger Clinic. By 1925, he had attracted enough investors to build the Menninger Sanitarium. The Menninger Foundation was established in 1941 and quickly became a U.S. psychiatric and psychoanalytic center. After World War II, Menninger was instrumental in founding the Winter Veterans Administration Hospital, in Topeka. It became the largest psychiatric training center in the world.

During his career, Menninger wrote a number of influential books. In his first book, The Human Mind, Menninger argued that psychiatry was a science; and that the mentally ill were only slightly different than healthy individuals. In The Crime of Punishment, Menninger argued that crime was preventable through psychiatric treatment; punishment was a brutal and inefficient relic of the past. He advocated treating offenders like the mentally ill.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Jimmy Carter in 1981.


Menninger's "mea culpa" letter To Thomas SzaszEdit

On October 6, 1988, less than two years before his death, Karl Menninger wrote an historic letter to Thomas Szasz, the controversial libertarian psychiatrist and author of The Myth of Mental Illness and many other books, repudiating his officially expressed views on psychiatry. After reminiscing over his many years of observations of the treatment of psychiatric patients, Menninger expressed his regret that he did not come over to Szasz's positions on psychiatry. "I am sorry you and I have gotten apparently so far apart all these years", Menninger wrote and that "We might have enjoyed discussing our observations together. You tried; you wanted me to come there, I remember. I demurred. Mea culpa". The tone and style of Menninger's letter suggests he had been much closer to Szasz on the issues than one might have suspected from reading Szasz's criticisms of Menninger. In Menninger's letter he puts the terms diagnosis, patients and treatment in quotes, suggesting that he had agreed with Szasz's arguments that psychiatric diagnosis is a medical fraud, psychiatric patients are prisoners and psychiatric treatments are tortures. Menninger's letter to Szasz and Szasz's reply has since been released into the public domain and can be read in there entirety at Szasz.com.

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