Honorary Director Jerome D Frank M.D. 95 dies

Jerome D. Frank M.D. Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins University Medical School died on Monday March 14th, 2005. Dr. Frank was recognized worldwide for his extensive research on psychotherapy and group therapy. He was also known for his criticism of nuclear weapons. He was an honorary member of the Maryland Foundation for Psychiatry’s board since its inception and was always available for advice and guidance.

Jerome Frank, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, was a major figure in American psychology and psychiatry. Profoundly influenced by the ideas of the social psychologist Kurt Lewin, with whom he studied both in Germany and at Cornell, Dr. Frank was deeply committed to applying the principles of rigorous academic research to meaningful human problems, including the treatment of the mentally ill, the understanding and resolution of political and international conflict, and the promotion of a just society.

After earning a PHD in psychology at Harvard, Dr. Frank pursued medical training at Harvard Medical School and psychiatric residency at the Henry Phipps Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, initially under Dr. Adolf Meyer. As a military psychiatrist in the Asian Theater during World War Two, he first noted the effects of demoralization upon the health and well-being of American troops overseas. In collaboration with Florence Powdermaker of the Veterans Administration, he pioneered the use of group psychotherapy for psychiatric conditions, particularly conditions in which demoralization plays a role.

After joining the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1949, Dr. Frank, with the encouragement of Dr. John C. Whitehorn, began applying the methods of psychology research to the study of psychotherapy. In the course of this research, funded by the NIMH and continuing over several decades, Dr. Frank developed his understanding that all psychotherapies make effective use of certain common principles, including a healing rationale, hope, mastery, and a caring therapeutic relationship. His best known work, Persuasion and Healing: A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy, first published in 1961, developed this insight and related effective psychotherapy to other types of healing influence, including faith healing and participation in cohesive social groups such as religious cults. The three editions of this work, continuously in print in many languages, have been a important bridge among many professional and lay groups that aim to relieve suffering through the application of counseling, healing ritual and helping relationships. The understanding that these are all forms of psychotherapy  based common principles of psychology fostered the development of psychotherapy within the disciplines of psychiatry, clinical psychology, social work, pastoral counseling, medicine and nursing. Current psychotherapeutic practices, including cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, time-limited psychotherapy, and group psychotherapy (including self-help groups) all rely heavily on the intellectual foundations of Dr. Frank’s work.

Dr. Frank’s was committed to understanding real problems in society. He had been studying in Germany during the rise of Nazism, and he was in the Pacific when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.  His feelings as a parent in the post war era led him to study the psychology of the nuclear arms race and to work for nuclear disarmament. His book, Sanity and Survival in the Nuclear Age: Psychological Aspects of  War and Peace, impressed Senator William Fulbright, the former head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Fulbright shared Dr. Frank’s grasp of the nuclear threat and the need to change people’s understanding of war to meet it. Dr. Frank testified by invitation before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1966. He was a founding member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and for years participated actively in the deliberations of the Council for a Livable World, among many political/social commitments.

In his final years, Dr. Frank returned to the study of psychotherapy. He came to believe that demoralization is a dimension of mental and medical illnesses of many kinds, and that psychotherapy uniquely combats this state. This insight remains important , contributing to the many forms of mental health care provided to soldiers involved in current conflicts. Dr. Frank also returned to the world of post-modern academia, developing the provocative and still controversial idea that psychotherapy is a form of healing rhetoric rather than an applied science.

Dr. Frank mentored many students, residents and colleagues during his years at Johns Hopkins. They repaid him with respect, affection, and a willingness to develop and disseminate his ideas, something he knew and treasured. His own reflection provides perhaps the most fitting capstone for the career of this lifelong teacher and researcher  "*more territory remains to be explored. So my intellectual journey ends, not with conclusions, but with questions, as all such journeys should."

Posted in In The News.