Leston L. Havens, Professor Emeritus Harvard University, was a true scholar of tremendous accomplishment. He graduated from Williams College magna cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
He received his MD from Cornell, as a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honor society. After two years in internal medicine at New York Hospital, he became a resident at Massachusetts Mental Health Center, which was then called the Boston Psychopathic Hospital. While still a resident, he published his first paper. It appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported on recurrent psychosis associated with liver disease and elevated blood ammonia levels. At Mass Mental, he founded the Psychopharmacology Unit, one of the first in the nation and one that became famous, and he conducted classic studies on ECT. In 1958, just one year after finishing his residency, he won the AE Bennett Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry, In 1971, just 13 years after finishing his training he was promoted to full Professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS), one of the fastest promotions on record.
As a scholar, one is reminded of an observation he once wrote about Karl Jaspers – “he knew what needed to be written, because he knew everything that had already been written, so he could tell what was missing”.
A second fact worth noting is Havens’ creativity, marked by courage in seeking his own intellectual direction even against the fashion of the times. Just as he explored biological psychiatry almost before the field even existed, and when academic psychiatry was exclusively focused on psychoanalysis, he became interested in rehabilitation of severely ill patients; he served as Chief Psychiatric Consultant to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission through the 1960s, when almost no one felt that our patients could be rehabilitated.
Havens inspired those around him not only through his example as a dedicated clinician but by his generosity. He directed the medical student clerkship at Mass Mental from 1964 to 1982 and convinced many of us to enter psychiatry because he made it seem the most worthwhile and fascinating career we could possibly imagine.
From 1987 to 1996 he directed the psychiatry residency at the Cambridge Hospital. The only way we have been able to repay his generous gifts of time and encouragement has been to give him our awards for teaching excellence. Throughout his career he has won numerous awards including the Elvin Semrad award at Massachusetts Mental Health Center an award for clinical teaching at Harvard Medical School, the Valentina Donahue-Turner Harvard teaching HMS, and the Benjamin Rush award from the American Psychiatric Association. All the while. he has been able to accomplish something that most teachers and many clinicians never manage – he made his students feel understood in the sense of Karl Jaspers who emphasized how very easy it is to explain someone’s behavior, as any clinician learns to do” and how hard it is to understand the person’s experience, which is a much more difficult task.
In 2002 the Cambridge Health Alliance established the Leston L. Havens Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in recognition of Dr. Havens’ contributions to the training of a generation of psychiatrists and his achievements in academic medicine,research and patient care. This award for excellence is broadly construed to include any of a number of areas of distinction including superb teaching in clinical, seminar or research settings; individual or group supervision; mentoring, and teachers who have designed or administrated excellent training programs. Outstanding faculty members from the Department of Psychiatry have received this Harvard award and distinguished themselves as educators clinicians and researchers. They all honor the tradition and standard set by Leston Havens.
Lastly, his writing on the schools of psychiatry has illuminated the nature of our field, and his writing on psychotherapy has taught us the techniques as well as the goals of our work.
Excerpted from a statement written in 2009 by Jay Burke Jr. MD MPH Chairman Department of Psychiatry The Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge MA USA