Yrjö Alanen

(Biography written at time of nomination.)

Yrjö Alanen is one of the professionals who have helped shape the history of schizophrenia, its understanding and its global, flexible approach adapted to the needs of patients.

Professor of Psychiatry (Emeritus) Yrjö Olavi Alanen was born Jan. 31, 1927 in Kurikka, Finland. He got his M.D. degree in the University of Helsinki in 1952 and did his specialist training in psychiatry and neurology in the Psychiatric University Hospital in Helsinki from 1954 to 1957. He was appointed to senior level clinical positions in this hospital from 1958 to 1968, after which he was appointed Professor of Psychiatry and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Turku, Finland. This position also included the chairmanship of the Department of Psychiatry and clinical work as Medical Director of the university hospital The Clinic of Psychiatry of Turku. He retired in 1990, however, since then he has continued his professional work as a psychotherapist and teacher, dedicating more time than previously to writing and editing books in his field.

Alanen had already begun his personal psychoanalysis in 1955 and was one of the first candidates for psychoanalytic training after IPA training became possible in Finland in 1965. He became a member of the Finnish Psychoanalytic Association in 1969. His main interests have been the psychodynamic study of schizophrenic psychoses and individual and family psychotherapy of schizophrenic psychoses. He instigated the first regular family therapy training in Finland in 1979 and acted as a member of the first trainer group in family therapy. This training soon became very popular and more extensive in different parts of Finland because, among other things, of its multi-professional quality. Family therapy training was also later established at an advanced special level. In the 1990s Alanen joined his closest working pupils and co-workers Viljo Räkköläinen and Jukka Aaltonen in the establishment of the advanced special level training program in psychodynamic individual therapy of seriously disordered patients.

Among other things, Alanen’s early studies dealt with family environments and dynamics of schizophrenic patients, leading to the monographs The Mothers of Schizophrenic Patients, 1958; and (together with co-workers) Family in the Pathogenesis of Schizophrenic and Neurotic Disorders, 1966. These studies already included features of integrated views, typical to Alanen’s later theoretical and clinical ways of thought. In 1959-60 he was Research Associate in Yale University Dept. of Psychiatry in New Haven, Conn., U.S.A., working in Theodor Lidz’s team. In 1979 he received the seventeenth annual Stanley R. Dean Research Award, given by The American College of Psychiatrists and The Fund for the Behavioral Sciences in recognition of basic research accomplishment in the behavioural sciences contributing to our understanding of schizophrenia.

In 1971, Yrjö Alanen organized the IVth ISPS symposium, held in Turku, Finland. After that, he was a member of the international executive committee of the ISPS until 1997. He is a lifetime honorary member of the ISPS.

In Turku, Alanen, along with his co-workers, established the Turku Schizophrenia Project, which led to the development of the now well-known need-adapted approach, an integrated and individualized psychotherapeutically oriented treatment of schizophrenic patients, leading to several later projects and practice in Finland and in the other Scandinavian countries. This approach and its results are presented in Alanen’s major work, the book Schizophrenia – Its Origins and Need-Adapted Treatment (London: Karnac, 1997), which has also been published in Finnish (1993), German (2001), Polish (2001), and Spanish (2003). During the 1980s, he was the leader of The Finnish National Schizophrenia Project, which aimed for a more psychotherapeutic and humanistic treatment of psychotic patients. According to the follow-up in 1992, both the amount of “new” and “old” long-term schizophrenic patients in Finnish mental hospitals had diminished about 60 per cent over 10 years. In the 1980s and ‘90s Alanen also led, together with Endre Ugelstad and other Scandinavian colleagues, the NIPS (Nordic Investigation on Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia) project, aiming to promote psychodynamically oriented study and treatment of new schizophrenic patients within the community psychiatric context (cf. the book Alanen et al.: Early Treatment for Schizophrenic Patients; Scandinavian psychotherapeutic approaches; Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1994). He is also one of the editors of the book Psychotherapie der Psychosen; Integrative Behandlungsansätze aus Skandinavien (V. Aderhold et al., eds, Giessen: Psychososozial-Verlag, 2003).

In 1982-84 Alanen acted as the chairman of the Committee of Mental Health in Finland, aiming at the innovation of the activities to a more open care–oriented direction and to end the separation of psychiatric organizations from the organizations including other medical specialties. The proposals of the Committee led to a new Mental Health Act, enacted in 1991, after the establishment of an Act joining the organizations for special health care together. From 1982 to 1985 Alanen also held the position of Research Professor, Academy in Finland, coinciding with his work as the leader of the National Schizophrenia Project.

Yrjö Alanen is an honorary member of 9 scientific and/or professional societies, including – besides the ISPS – the Finnish, Swedish and Polish Psychiatric Associations and the European Family Therapy Association. His special interests have included cross-country skiing and still include, especially, literature (he has published two essay books in Finnish, one of them dealing with Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and The Devils). He is married to Johanna, née Aalto, has four children and six grandchildren.

Yrjö Alanen has had a complete life of lucidity, dedication and devotion. He investigated the familial dynamics of psychotic patients while establishing the most effective familial and individual psychotherapeutic strategies and interventions and the global health care devices that these patients require for their recovery. He took charge of the psychotherapeutic training of all the professionals, of the creation of early psychotherapeutic and familial intervention teams, of the development of integrated therapeutic programs and of the investigation of the results of these programs on improvement or overcoming of psychotic disorders.

As the leader of Finland’s National plan for Schizophrenia, Alanen has made Finland exemplary for the organization of public services worldwide. From the city of Turku to the rest of Finland, from Finland to the other Scandinavian countries and to many other parts of the world, the figure and the work of Yrjö Alanen has had a decisive influence and has been a great example for many professionals in our field.