Wellcome Collection Makes Papers of Dr. Joshua Bierer Available for Research

Wellcome Collection is pleased to announce that the papers of Dr Joshua Bierer (1901-1984), clinical psychiatrist and pioneer in social psychiatry and community care, have been fully cataloged and can now be ordered and viewed on site at the Wellcome Library in London.

Joshua Bierer was born into a distinguished Austrian Jewish family of physicians. He trained under Alfred Adler and began his career in psychotherapy working at various Austrian mental hospitals. However, he was prompted by rising anti-Semitism to emigrate in the 1930s, first to Palestine and then to the UK, where he was appointed as a psychotherapist at the recently-opened Runwell Mental Hospital in 1938. From then onwards, highlights of his impressive career included the foundation of the social psychotherapy center at Marlborough Day Hospital in 1946 and the establishment of the International Journal of Social Psychiatry in 1955, which he also subsequently edited for many years.

Bierer’s approach to the treatment of mental illness was radical for its time and stood at odds with much of the international psychiatric community. He strongly opposed the over-medication of patients and emphasised the importance of rehabilitation and treatment in the community rather than in institutional settings. He also criticized the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and his followers, although he sought to distance himself from the anti-psychiatry movement of thinkers such as R.D. Laing.

In addition to his pioneering work in psychiatry, Bierer was also highly politically active. During his later years, he corresponded extensively with the British government, contributing advice on the reorganization of mental health care to the Principle Medical Officer of the National Health Service and the Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security. An ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher, he wrote personally to the Prime Minister approving of her response to strike action. 

Newly-cataloged material in Wellcome Collection relates particularly to the latter part of his career, including much material relating to his political activities. The papers also include extensive collections of newscuttings and photographs relating to his work and the operation of Marlborough Day Hospital, copies of his published articles, and other personal correspondence. Of particular interest are drafts of his unpublished autobiography A Pedlar of Dreams, written towards the end of his life, which shed light on his varied life story and his approach to psychiatry.

By making this exceptional material available to researchers, the Wellcome Collection hopes to increase awareness of and interest in a pivotal yet understudied figure in the history of British psychiatry and mental healthcare. For more information on the papers of Dr. Joshua Bierer, please see the Wellcome Library Archives and Manuscripts catalog.