Helen Flanders Dunbar
(May 14, 1902 - August 21, 1959) — later known as H. Flanders Dunbar
and, finally, as Flanders Dunbar
— is an important early figure in U.S. psychosomatic medicine
, as well as being an important advocate of physicians and clergy co-operating in their efforts to care for the sick.
Eldest child of a well-to-do family — her father was the electrical engineer and patent attorney Francis William Dunbar (1868-1939) and her mother was the professional genealogist Edith Vaughn Flanders (1871-1963) — Helen Flanders Dunbar was born in Chicago
on May 14, 1902.
As a child she suffered from malnutrition; and despite Dunbar's later misleading claims that she had suffered poliomyelitis, and a childhood pediatrician's diagnosis of a muscular form of rickets ("rachitic pseudo-paralysis"), it seems far more likely that she was displaying what was known as "failure to thrive".
A diminutive adult — she was 4'11" (150 cm) — she always wore platform shoes.
She married her first husband Theodor Peter Wolfensberger (1902-1954) in 1932 — he was eventually known in the U.S. as Theodore P. Wolfe — and they were divorced in 1939 (Wolfe arranged for the immigration of Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich in 1939, and was the translator of most of Reich's books and articles).
She married her second husband, economist and editor of The New Republic, George Henry Soule (1888-1970), in 1940. A daughter, Marcia was born in 1942.
Dunbar was taught by private tutors and at private schools. She graduated from Bryn Mawr
with a B.A. (dual major in mathematics and psychology) in 1923. She held degrees in theology (B.D. from Union Theological Seminary
, where she encountered the psychologist of religion James H. Leuba
, in 1927), philosophy (Ph.D. from Columbia University
in 1929), and medicine (M.D. from Yale University
She also trained with Anton Boisen (1876-1965), a co-founder of the Clinical Pastoral Education Movement, at the Worcester State Hospital in the summer of 1925, and in 1929 with both Helene Deutsch and Felix Deutsch in Vienna, and with Carl Jung at the Burghölzli, the psychiatric clinic of Zurich University. In pursuit of more knowledge in relation to the psychic aspects of healing and disease she visited Lourdes and a number of other healing shrines in Germany and Austria.
She was the first Medical Director (1930-1942) of the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students in New York City. She was also the Director of the Joint Committee on Religion and Medicine of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and The New York Academy of Medicine
from 1931 to 1936.
She was an instructor at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute from 1941 to 1949. She founded the American Psychosomatic Society
in 1942, and was the first editor of its journal Psychosomatic Medicine
On 21 August 1959 Dunbar was found floating face down in her swimming pool; and, although some spoke of suicide, the coroner simply recorded a death by drowning.
- Anon, "Dr. Dunbar Found Dead in Her Pool", The New York Times, (23 August 1959), p.95, col.D.
- Hart, C.W., "Helen Flanders Dunbar: Physician, Medievalist, Enigma", Journal of Religion and Health, Vol.35, No.1, (Spring 1996), pp.47-58.
- Kemp, H.V., "Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959)", The Feminist Psychologist, Newsletter of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association'', Vol.28, No.1, (Winter 2001).
- Powell, R.C., "Mrs. Ethel Phelps Stokes Hoyt (1877-1952) and the Joint Committee on Religion and Medicine (1923-1936): a brief sketch", Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol.29, No.2, (June 1975), pp.99-105. [Dunbar was Director of the Joint Committee.]
- Powell, R.C., "Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902–1959) and a Holistic Approach to Psychosomatic Problems: I. The Rise and Fall of a Medical Philosophy", Psychiatric Quarterly, Vol.49, No.2, (June 1977), pp.133-152.
- Powell, R.C., "Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902–1959) and a Holistic Approach to Psychosomatic Problems: II. The Role of Dunbar's Nonmedical Background", Psychiatric Quarterly, Vol.50, No.2, (June 1978), pp.144-157.
- Powell, R.C., "Emotionally, Soulfully, Spiritually ‘Free to Think and Act’." The Helen Flanders Dunbar Memorial Lecture on Psychosomatic Medicine and Pastoral Care, delivered November 1999, at the Columbia Presbyterian Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York, New York. Journal of Religion & Health Vol.40, No.1, (2001), pp.97-114. on the internet at http://www.pastoralreport.com/the_archives/2002/04/emotionally_sou.html [This essay explores an earlier era's understanding of the "spiritual" and the more "soulful" components of healing and how Dunbar combined these to focus on helping all peoples become "free to think and act."]
- Dunbar, H.F., Emotions and Bodily Changes, Columbia University Press, (New York), 1935.
- Dunbar, H.F., Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine, Random House, (New York), 1947.
- Dunbar, H.F., Psychiatry in the Medical Specialties, McGraw-Hill, (New York), 1959.
- Dunbar, H.F., Psychosomatic Diagnosis, P.B. Hoeber, Inc., (New York), 1943.
- Dunbar, H.F., Symbolism in Medieval Thought and its Consummation in The Divine Comedy, Yale University Press, (New Haven), 1929.
- Dunbar, H.F., Your Child’s Mind and Body; a Practical Guide for Parents, Random House, (New York), 1949.