Kraepelin, Emil

Kraepelin, Emil (1856-1926) was a German psychiatrist who pioneered investigation into the physical causes of mental illness. Through his research, he arrived at a classification system for mental disorders that is still largely in use today, and he was also one of the first to do research in the fields of neuropsychiatry, neuropsychology, and psychopharmacology.

Kraepelin received his M.D. degree in 1878 from the University of Wiirzburg. He served as a resident in the clinic at Munich, an early university clinic. He then went to Leipzig to study under the experimental psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. In 1883, he published a major work, Kompendium der Psychiatric, which in part led to psychiatry being legitimized as an empirical scientific discipline.

Kraepelin amassed a large number of case studies through laboratory research and many years' work in mental institutions. He believed mental disorders are diffuse illnesses of the cerebral cortex, and he systematically classified severe mental disorders. Ultimately, he identified several distinct disorders, coining the terms “dementia praecox,” which was later called schizophrenia, “manic-depressive psychosis,” and “paranoia.” With Alois Alzheimer, he also identified Alzheimer's disease. Because of his research into the effects of alcohol and other intoxicants on the nervous system, he is regarded by some as the father of psychopharmacology.

Having witnessed firsthand the bizarre and often cruel “treatments” administered in the asylums of the day, Kraepelin also became an untiring advocate of humane treatment of mental patients and spoke out against capital punishment and in favor of social reform.

In 1917, he founded the German Psychiatric Research Institution in Munich and became professor of psychiatry at the university there. Emphasizing empirical evidence, Kraepelin built his facility into a highly regarded psychiatric research center that has served as the model for modern institutions of its kind.