Contrarian Psychiatrist Loren Mosher, 70
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page B06
Loren R. Mosher, 70, who died of liver cancer July 10 at a clinic in Berlin, was a contrarian psychiatrist and schizophrenia expert who was dismissed from the National Institute of Mental Health for his controversial theories on treatment.
While chief of NIMH's Center for the Study of Schizophrenia from 1968 to 1980, Dr. Mosher decried excess drugging of the mentally ill; large treatment facilities like St. Elizabeths Hospital that he would have preferred to raze; and the sway pharmaceutical companies had over professional groups.
He advocated a largely drug-free treatment regimen for schizophrenics, which still runs counter to a prevailing opinion for using antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenics in the United States.
His position was based on a view that schizophrenics are tormented souls who needed emotionally nourishing environments in which to recover. He said drugs were almost always unnecessary, except in the event of a violent or suicidal episode.
He eventually established small, drug-free treatment facilities that were more akin to homes than hospitals. His young care providers in one center, Soteria House in San Jose, lived and performed household chores with the handful of patients.
"The idea was that schizophrenia can often be overcome with the help of meaningful relationships, rather than with drugs, and that such treatment would eventually lead to unquestionably healthier lives," Dr. Mosher once wrote.
As late as 2002, he claimed that 85 percent to 90 percent of his clients returned to the community without conventional hospital treatment.
In 1998, Dr. Mosher resigned from the American Psychiatric Association, which he called a "drug company patsy."
"The major reason for this action is my belief that I am actually resigning from the American Psychopharmacological Association," he wrote in his resignation letter. "Luckily, the organization's true identity requires no change in the acronym. At this point in history, in my view, psychiatry has been almost completely bought out by the drug companies."
Loren Richard Mosher was born in Monterey, Calif., and lived with various relatives after his mother's death from breast cancer when he was 9. He worked in oil fields in the American West as a young man to earn money for medical school, or so he told his employers. What was then a lie, he said, soon became truth as his co-workers came to the allegedly aspiring doctor with complaints about colds and sexual diseases.
After graduating from Stanford University and Harvard University medical school, he arrived at NIMH in 1964. His early schizophrenia research involved identical twins, one with schizophrenia and the other without the psychotic disorder. His research emphasized the "psychosocial" factors that he felt led one toward exhibiting symptoms but left the other one apparently normal.
Creating Soteria House in the early 1970s, he said, caused lasting trouble with the psychiatric community. After showing studies of patient recovery that matched traditional treatment with medication, the project lost its funding amid a strong peer backlash. So did a second residential treatment center in San Jose.
"By 1980, I was removed from my [NIMH] post altogether," he wrote. "All of this occurred because of my strong stand against the overuse of medication and disregard for drug-free, psychological interventions to treat psychological disorders."
He then taught psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda and became head of the public mental health system in Montgomery County. He started a crisis house in Rockville, McAuliffe House, based on Soteria principles.
He was a prolific contributor to scientific journals and co-wrote several books, including "Community Mental Health: A Practical Guide" (1994). During the Ritalin phenomenon of the 1990s, he was often featured as a dissenting view in scores of articles. "If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth," he said of the medication.
Dr. Mosher moved to San Diego from Washington in 1996. At his death, he was a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego medical school and was in Berlin for experimental cancer treatment.
His marriage to Irene Carleton Mosher ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Judy Schreiber of San Diego; three children from the first marriage, Hal Mosher of Fairfax, Calif., and Tim Mosher and Heather "Missy" Galanida, both of Los Angeles; two brothers; and a granddaughter.
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