Lyman C. Wynne, 83; Schizophrenia Researcher

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Lyman C. Wynne, 83, a founder of family therapy and an influential researcher who helped transform the treatment of schizophrenia, died of cancer Jan. 17 at the Springhouse assisted living facility in Bethesda.

Dr. Wynne made a number of discoveries about the interaction of genetics and the environment in the development of schizophrenia. For the past 30 years, he, Pekka Tienari and Karl-Erik Wahlberg collaborated on a landmark study of adopted twins and families, showing how family environment can influence a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia.

As early as 1947, Dr. Wynne came up with the idea of treating families as a unit, even when only one member was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"His rigorous communications research was essential to debunking the blaming notion that a child's early family environment, particularly the mother, caused schizophrenia," Eric Caine, chairman of the University of Rochester Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry, said in a statement. "It had a tangible positive impact on how families regarded their affected children or siblings."

Dr. Wynne worked at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda for 20 years, the last 10 as chief of the adult psychiatry branch. In 1971, he moved to the University of Rochester Medical Center's department of psychiatry, where he was department chairman and a professor until he retired in 1998. He returned to live in Bethesda last year.

He was born on a farm in Lake Benton, Minn., where his father supported the family on an annual income of $350 and on discussions of Spinoza and Kant. His mother was bedridden with uterine cancer for four years before her death, and her illness inspired Dr. Wynne to become a medical researcher.

At 12, he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Duluth, Minn., and six years later received a full scholarship to Harvard University. He graduated during World War II; the Army sent him to Harvard Medical School, from which he graduated in 1947.

During the 1952 call-up of doctors for the Korean War, he was sent by the Public Health Service to take part in a new research program at National Institute of Mental Health while he worked on his doctorate in social psychology, which he received in 1958 from Harvard. While at NIMH, he also treated patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the District.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Wynne took a sabbatical to conduct an anthropological study of extended families in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. He also began a long participation in World Health Organization research on schizophrenia.

After moving to Rochester, he also saw patients in a clinical setting with his wife, Adele, who was a therapist.

"At a time when families of patients with schizophrenia were neglected by medical professionals, Dr. Wynne devoted his career to understanding them," said J. Steven Lamberti, a psychiatrist who studied under Dr. Wynne. "He knew firsthand about the devastating impact of mental illness upon families, losing a beloved sister to suicide early in his career," Lamberti said.

Dr. Wynne, who published numerous articles and co-edited "The Nature of Schizophrenia" (1978), received the Frieda Fromm-Reichmann Award for schizophrenia research from the American Academy of Psychoanalysis in 1965 and the Meritorious Service Medal from the U.S. Public Health Service in 1966. The American Family Therapy Academy gave him two awards, one in 1981 and another in 1989. He was president of the academy in 1986 and 1987.

The University of Rochester's Wynne Center for Family Research was named for Dr. Wynne and his wife, who died in 2003.

Survivors include five children, Randall Wynne of Tampa, Barry Wind of Bethesda, Jonathan Wynne of New York, Christine Wynne of Lake Oswego, Ore., and Sara Wynne of Oakland, Calif.; a sister; and five grandchildren.

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