Max Fink Papers

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On a visit to my home in 2006, Drs. Edward Shorter and David Healy, writing their book Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness suggested that I place my  files in the Special Collections at Stony Brook University. They were accepted in 2007 and I am very grateful to Kristen Nyitray, the university archivist, for her enthusiasm and personal interest in developing these archives.

Max Fink
June 9, 2017


The Max Fink Papers at Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries document the extraordinary career of psychiatrist and neurologist Max Fink, MD. Dr. Fink is a world leading expert and defender of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). His studies of ECT began in 1952 at Hillside Hospital in New York and he has published prolifically for six decades on the use and effects of ECT. In 1979, he authored Convulsive Therapy: Theory and Practice, the book medical historian Edward Shorter and internationally recognized psychiatrist David Healy called the “definitive medical text on electroconvulsive shock.”

The collection is comprised of nearly 250 linear feet (475 boxes) of original research materials dating from the 1880s through 2017 and includes Dr. Fink’s notes, manuscripts, publications, correspondence, grant reports, and visual materials on the research and study of convulsive therapy (electroshock), catatonia, melancholia, pharmaco-electroencephalography, and psychopharmacology.

The first release of the Max Fink Digital Collection, a subset of the papers, includes nearly 7,000 items (20,000 pages) of original notes on experimental psychiatry, outgoing letters to colleagues, professional writings, and an autobiographical memoir completed in 2017. More items from the archival collection will be digitized in the future.


Dr. Max Fink received his M.D. from New York University College of Medicine in 1945. He served as medical officer in the U.S. Army (1946-1947) and has certification as a specialist in neurology (1952), psychoanalysis (1953), and psychiatry (1954). He has held appointments at Washington University, New York Medical College, and since 1972, at Stony Brook University (in 1997 he became Professor Emeritus). Between 1997 and 2005, he joined the faculty of the Long Island Jewish Hillside Hospital and the faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

By his own account, Dr. Fink refers to his large body of work as a clinical researcher as “an unusual record.” He considers his career to span 65 years, beginning as a medical trainee when he demonstrated that penicillin, then an experimental drug, was more effective than sulfa for patients with empyema. His study was published in the 1948 edition of Eli Rubin’s Diseases of the Chest with Emphasis on X-Ray Diagnosis. His studies of ECT began at Hillside Hospital in 1952 and he has published broadly on predictors of outcome in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), effects of seizures on electroencephalograms (EEGs) and speech, hypotheses of the mode of action, and how to achieve an effective treatment.

Dr. Fink is a pioneer in the study of drugs of abuse. He began testing LSD in 1953. The introduction of psychoactive drugs led to quantitative studies of drug effects on EEGs. With support from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), digital computer analysis methods were developed. He was a principal participant in the Early Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit (ECDEU) program from 1959 to 1980. In the 1960s, he turned his attention to opioids and marijuana and in the 1970s, he compared the effects of marijuana grown in Mississippi to hashish made in Greece. One outcome of his studies was the recognition that naloxone and cyclazocine could be used in the treatment of opioid overdose and dependence. Dr. Fink’s research eventually led him to establish a classification of psychoactive drugs by digital computer analysis of EEG and has contributed to the effects of narcotic antagonists and of cannabis. In more recent years, his research has centered on psychopathology, the syndromes of catatonia and melancholia.

He founded Convulsive Therapy (now the Journal of ECT) in 1984, a quarterly scientific journal. From 1975 to 1978, and again from 1987 to 1990, he was a member of the Task Forces on Electroconvulsive Therapy of the American Psychiatric Association. From 1995 to 1996, he chaired the Task Force on Ambulatory ECT of the Association for Convulsive Therapy. In 1994, with NIMH support he organized the CORE study program with Charles Kellner as Principal Investigator, which studied continuation therapies after ECT and compared the benefits and risks of different electrode placements. The group has published 17 reports establishing new standards for effective ECT.

He has received many prize awards for his research in ECT and in EEG including the Electroshock Research Award (1956), the A.E. Bennett award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry (1958), the Anna Monika Prize award for research into depressive illness (1979), the Laszlo Meduna Prize of the Hungarian National Institute for Nervous and Mental Disease (1986), the Gold Medal award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry (1988), and Lifetime Achievement Awards of the Psychiatric Times (1995), and the Thomas William Salmon Award in Psychiatry (2011).

Dr. Fink is the author of over 800 articles and several books. His publications include Convulsive Therapy: Theory and Practice (1979); Electroshock: Restoring the Mind (1999); Ethics In Electroconvulsive Therapy (2004), with Jan-Otto Ottosson; Catatonia: A Clinician’s Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment (2003); Melancholia: The Diagnosis, Pathophysiology and Treatment of Depressive Disorders (2006) with Michael A. Taylor; Endocrine Psychiatry (2010) with the historian Edward Shorter; and Rediscovering Catatonia: The Biography of a Treatable Syndrome (2013). He has provided expertise and commentary in media productions, including as a consultant on the Academy Award-winning film A Beautiful Mind (2001).

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