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Albert J. Silverman, M.D., C.M.

Albert J. Silverman

Albert Jack Silverman, M.D., C.M.

Albert Jack Silverman, M.D., C.M. was a noted psychiatrist, neuroscience researcher and former chair of two university psychiatry departments. In 1970, he became chair of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School. He is credited with redirecting the department's research, education and treatment programs, and leading during a time of great change. During his career, Dr. Silverman sought to bridge the divide between the rising field of neuroscience-based psychiatry and traditional psychoanalysis.  After he stepped down from the chair in 1981, he remained on faculty and continued his research and the teaching of psychiatry residents.  He retired as professor emeritus in 1990 and continued teaching and conducting rounds until 1997.

Today's event is the 25th in an annual series of research conferences held in the department of psychiatry in Dr. Silverman’s honor. A recent generous gift from Mrs. Halina Silverman will assure that the Albert J. Silverman Research Conference will continue in perpetuity as a lasting tribute and legacy for her late husband, an accomplished leader, a fine doctor – devoted to his patients, colleagues and trainees – and a wonderful husband, father and grandfather.

Born in Montreal on January 27, 1925, Dr. Silverman earned his bachelor's of science and medical degrees at McGill University. It was at McGill that he discovered his interest in the physical underpinnings of psychological phenomena - a field called psycho-physiology. After a residency in psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical Center, he followed his mentor Ewald W. Busse to Duke University, where he became a member of the faculty.

He was naturalized as an American citizen in June 1955, took a leave from Duke, and entered the Air Force that year. During his two and one-half years of service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he completed his board examinations in both neurology and psychiatry.  Dr. Silverman led research for the U.S. Air Force on space neuroscience and psychology, which rose from obscurity to prominence literally overnight in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik and the dawn of the space race. In addition to performing key research on physical and psychological responses to G-force acceleration and space travel as chief of the stress and fatigue section of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he helped invent a device that used pilots' brain waves as an oxygen-deprivation warning system.

In a 1991 oral history interview, Silverman recalled his Air Force experience: "This was right at the beginning of space exploration. Just prior to the Russians' putting up Sputnik, we were doing G-tolerance studies with the human centrifuge. We weren't allowed to call them moon trajectories or anything like that, because the senators were very negative about 'all of this space nonsense.' But in under 24 hours of Sputnik's going up, we got these hurry-up telegrams from headquarters saying, 'What are we doing in space [research]?' So we dusted off all the old technical reports we had been doing anyway, but under non-space names such as 'acceleration in unusual environments.' That kind of vague name now became, 'G-forces necessary for a moon trip,' which now became very kosher."  Silverman left the service as a captain in 1957. He returned to Duke, heading the psycho-physiology lab and then the behavior studies lab. In all, his research during this period of his career led to more than 100 publications and presentations.

In 1963, Dr. Silverman went to Rutgers University where he and three other faculty members worked to establish a new medical school. This entailed architectural planning and supervision, and hiring the chairs of all departments of the medical school.  He became chair of the first psychiatry department at Rutgers where he hired the faculty and worked for seven years. The school later became part of the New Jersey Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He also studied psychoanalysis at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, graduating in May 1964.

In 1970, he came to the University of Michigan. At the U-M, he set out to bridge the gap between the Mental Health Research Institute, home to noted basic research in the neurosciences, and the psychoanalysis-focused psychiatry faculty. In addition to strengthening the clinical trials program, he helped the U-M implement new clinical treatments and research programs emphasizing psychopharmacology, biofeedback, and stress-neuroendocrine relationships. He also revamped the curriculum for medical students to include more psychiatric training, improved the residency program, and attracted young neuroscientists.

From 1975 to 1976, Dr. Silverman was president of the American Psychosomatic Society, which focuses on the mind-body connection in disease. He served on the National Board of Medical Examiners for many years, including a term from 1984 to 1987 as chair of the committee that designed the behavioral sciences portion of the national medical licensing examination. In addition to the APS and NBME, Dr. Silverman was a charter fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists; a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; a former chairman of several committees for the American Psychiatric Association; and an honorary fellow of the American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians.

"Al was truly a force to be reckoned with, an international leader in the field of psychosomatic medicine, and an important figure in the development of psychiatry at Michigan and beyond into a field that embraces all aspects of the human brain and psyche," says John Greden, M.D., past department chair and executive director of the U-M Depression Center.

Prior to his career in Academic Medicine, Dr. Silverman had an active professional career acting and directing in both theater and radio and continued his activities as an amateur musician and sculptor.  Dr. Silverman was a Patron of the U-M University Musical Society; a Friend of the U-M Museum of Art, the U-M Opera, and the U-M Musical Theater; and a Patron of the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Memberships also included Beth Israel Congregation, Ann Arbor; Hadassah Associates and B’Nai Brith.

Dr. Silverman is survived by his wife Halina W. Silverman, son Barry Evan Silverman (Nancy), daughter Marcy S. Mullan (John), and four grandchildren: Luke, Mark, Kelly, Erin, as well as a brother Marvin Silverman, M.D. and his family of Ottawa, Canada.

We hold this conference in fond memory of Dr. Silverman – visionary, healer and friend.