History of the Connecticut Psychiatric Society

The Connecticut District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association has its roots at the turn of the last century as the Connecticut Society of Alienists. The first clear record of its existence is found in a note in the American Journal of Insanity for 1910, where a meeting of the organization in Bridgeport is reported. On this occasion, Dr. Frank Bond read a paper on alcoholism and its treatment and there was a discussion of the shooting of a policeman by a “lunatic at large”. Like its birth, the demise of this organization is obscure and reference to it was made 20 years later when its funds were transferred to a new organization, the Connecticut Society for Psychiatry.

The Society came into being on May 10, 1934, when Dr. Roy L. Leak, superintendent of the Connecticut State Hospital at Middletown, invited 43 psychiatrists to form an association. Initially this was to be called the Connecticut Society for Neurology and Psychiatry, but since it was recognized that this might interfere with affiliation with the APA, it was decided to limit the group to psychiatrists. The purposes of the Society were spelled out, “to foster the study of nervous and mental disorders, to maintain an advanced standard of care of patients suffering from such disorders, to advocate and foster preventive psychiatry.” The first president was Dr. A.R. Diefendorf, who was referred to as “the dean of Connecticut psychiatrists.” History becomes very real to us when we read that the dues were set at $1.00 per year.

From an early date the organization’s interest in affiliation with the APA was evident. Four days after the first meeting another one was held to discuss how affiliation with APA could be established. Within a fortnight, 38 members had paid their dues and a formal vote was taken to approach the APA to establish a relationship. Some members at this meeting advised caution in this move, but the motion was made and carried to explore this liaison with the national organization.

The Society met regularly four times a year with many guest speakers and repeated attempts to have brief, 10-minute clinical papers given by members. In addition, the Society was very active in familiarizing itself with the problems of the state government in relation to mental health and played a forceful and active role in the formulation of policies with affected psychiatric patients and the practice of psychiatry in the state.

At an early date the Society offered its services to the governor to evaluate psychiatric services; from this offer grew the proposal for a central commissioner or commission for mental health. This idea developed into the establishment of a Department of Mental Health which became increasingly important in molding and shaping the practice of psychiatry in this state.

Late in 1935 the question arose as to whether the Society should remain affiliated with the State Medical Society and thus have an affiliate relationship with the APA, or whether members should sever their connection with the State Medical Society and therefore be eligible for district branch status. Apparently the membership found it difficult to consider separating from the State Medical Society and voted to maintain an affiliate status with the national organization. One of the factors which led to this decision appears to be that all members of the Connecticut Society did not have to be members of the APA, and the group wished to retain this type of organization. In July 1937 the APA accepted the Connecticut Society as an affiliate. At that time the membership of the group was about 89 and the dues had doubled to $2 per year.

In the course of the next few years interest in activity of the Society diminished and in March 1940 it was suggested that the Society be broadened to include the many neurologists who were interested in the organization. Accordingly, that December, the constitution was altered to include the neurologists and the name of the organization was changed to the Connecticut Society for Psychiatry and Neurology. For a time the program included a number if neurological papers.

During the war years the Society struggled to continue functioning. It did find many areas of interest in induction services, and later, problems of rehabilitation. With the end of the war interest on the part of the psychiatrists in their organization renewed and the group began to increase in membership.

In August 1948 the reorganization plans of APA were conveyed to the Connecticut Society, which in turn began to review its roles and functions. In April 1951 the Society voted that members of the APA who were also in the Society and apply for a change of status in the APA from affiliate to district branch. Many discussions regarding the purpose of the organization were held in the following year. For the time the Connecticut District Branch and the Connecticut Society of Neurology and Psychiatry existed congruently. However, on Oct. 9, 1956, the Connecticut Society for Psychiatry and Neurology voted to disband and be absorbed by the Connecticut District Branch. Neurologists who had been members of the older organization did not protest and dropped out of affiliation with the psychiatrists.

The District Branch has increasingly become the spokesman for the psychiatrists in the state and was actively involved in the key movements of recent years. It seriously considered the development of psychiatric services in general hospitals, carefully reviewed and evaluated a national program as presented in Action for Mental Health, was most active in the preparation of a confidentiality bill for psychiatrists which was passed by the legislature, and has been active in sponsoring teaching programs for general practitioners.

In 1965 its membership had reached 215. Officers for 1965-66 were Dr. Lane Ameen, President; Dr. Stephen Fleck, President-Elect; Dr. John Houck, Secretary and Alternative Delegate; and Dr. James C. Johnson, Delegate.

In May 1965 the Society hired its first Executive Director/Lobbyist Arthur Schuman. Since the mid-'70s, the Connecticut Psychiatric Society has been among the first states to pass legislation on mandated benefits for psychiatric treatment, confidentiality of psychiatric records, and mental health and substance abuse parity.