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US/USSR Psychiatry Delegation Records 1976-2005 (bulk 1987-1991)
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Biography

Historical Note

Between February 26 and March 12, 1989, a delegation representing the United States government visited the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) with the goal of assessing the state of Soviet psychiatry. The delegation was particularly concerned with allegations that Soviet psychiatrists used medically-baseless diagnoses of schizophrenia and other mental illness to intern political and religious dissidents indefinitely in psychiatric hospitals. The visit, which was made at the USSR's invitation, represented a thawing in the Soviet Union's relationship with Western psychological organizations, many of which had long-condemned the USSR's alleged use of psychiatry in human rights violations.

The delegation was comprised of fourteen psychiatrists, one psychologist, two lawyers, two specialists in human rights, and six interpreters. The visit was coordinated by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, with Robert W. Farrand leading the effort. Secretary of State George Shultz requested that the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) assist the State Department with the visit, and Drs. Darrel Regier and Samuel Keith of NIMH designed the standardized and scientific research methods which the delegation would use. Dr. Loren Roth of the University of Pittsburgh served as the delegation's overall psychiatric team leader while Dr. Harold Visotsky led the hospital visit teams.

During their visit, the delegation's psychiatric team systematically interviewed fifteen hospitalized and twelve released psychiatric patients to determine if they showed signs of mental illness which would justify internment in a psychiatric hospital. The delegation had full access to the patients' medical records and, in some cases, also interviewed the patients' relatives, friends, and treating psychiatrists. In addition, the delegation also visited four ordinary and special psychiatric hospitals in the USSR to assess the quality of treatment there.

Upon their return, the delegation authored a report which was published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin. The delegation found that, while there were some positive indications that Soviet psychiatry had begun adopting more Western standards, there was still evidence of psychiatric abuse. The delegation's visit contributed to a positive exchange of best practices between the United States and the Soviet Union -- in 1990, Soviet psychiatrists conducted a return visit the United States.