Lawrence Kolb, M.D., served as APA president from 1968 to 1969.
Former APA President Lawrence Kolb, M.D., who died in October at 95 in
Orlando, Fla., was a pioneer in community mental health, psychopharmacology,
and research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was APA president in
In addition to his pioneering community mental health work during his
21-year tenure as head of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, he made
notable advances in the understanding of phantom-limb pain. Kolb became chair
of the Columbia University Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry and
director of the affliliated psychiatric institute in 1954. He was the author
of Modern Clinical Psychiatry, which for many years was a standard
textbook in the field.
In the early 1950s the institute was among the first to test
psychopharmacologic medications, and Kolb developed and oversaw the
construction of a research building at the institute that was named in his
honor. In 1976 Kolb became New York state's commissioner of mental
"He was very enthusiastic about the work he was doing," said
Alfred Freedman, M.D., who was APA president for 1973-74, and "his
enthusiasm for clinical psychiatry and research never waned."
Freedman recalled that Kolb was always willing to help. When Freedman was a
new resident at the psychiatric institute in 1954, Kolb gave him "a lot
of advice on psychiatry. That characterized him. He always was a helpful
He added, "His chief contributions were in the organization of
psychiatric services. He developed an outstanding research operation" at
Kolb's accomplishments began early. While serving as a Navy physician in
World War II, he spoke at length with wounded men who said they were
experiencing severe pain that felt as though it were occurring in limbs that
had been amputated. The result was a definitive account of the phantom-limb
In research in the early 1980s, Kolb headed studies showing how combat
stress could cause physical symptoms. This work led to a government study of
PTSD in Vietnam veterans.
While director of the psychiatric institute and chair of the Department of
Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he
also initiated what was then a fledgling concept in mental health care—a
community-service unit to treat patients from the medical center's
neighborhood. That led to establishment of the Washington Heights Community
"After President Jack Kennedy delivered his community mental health
speech in 1963, we were all taken up with it," Freedman said. Kennedy
raised the issue on February 5, 1963, in a special message to Congress in
which he proposed a national mental health program to inaugurate "a
wholly new emphasis and approach to care for the mentally ill."
Kolb was born in Baltimore on June 16, 1911. His father, Lawrence Kolb,
M.D., was also a psychiatrist. He was a pioneer in the medical approach to
narcotics addiction treatment and in public health research and treatment of
mental illness. He was one of the first to advocate treating drug addicts as
patients instead of criminals.
Another past APA president, John Talbott, M.D. (1984-85), called Kolb his"
scientific father" and said that he had known him for nearly 50
years. "He was the man... who told me a residency slot at Columbia was
awaiting me after I'd followed his instructions to travel all over the country
to see if any program could offer me a better education, who left me in charge
when going on sabbatical in Russia, who trusted me as the then-most junior
faculty member at the New York State Psychiatric Institute to make sure a
lithium-treatment ward was opened on time, and who gave me my first real
Talbott said Kolb was also "secretly pleased" when Talbott and
another faculty member tried to close down a blacktie dinner at APA's annual
meeting after Vietnam War protesters were shot at Kent State University in
"Perhaps my fondest recollection was his willingness to walk with me
to receive my induction into fellowship at APA," he said. ▪