On This Day … 02 December

People (Deaths)

  • 1957 – Manfred Sakel, Ukrainian-American neurophysiologist and psychiatrist (b. 1902).
  • 1986 – John Curtis Gowan, American psychologist and academic (b. 1912).

Manfred Sakel

Manfred Joshua Sakel (06 June 1900 to 02 December 1957) was an Austrian-Jewish (later Austrian-American) neurophysiologist and psychiatrist, credited with developing insulin shock therapy in 1927.

Sakel was born in Nadvirna (Nadwórna), in the former Austria-Hungary Empire (now Ukraine), which was part of Poland between the world wars. Sakel studied Medicine at the University of Vienna from 1919 to 1925, specialising in neurology and neuropsychiatry. From 1927 until 1933 Sakel worked in hospitals in Berlin. In 1933 he became a researcher at the University of Vienna’s Neuropsychiatric Clinic. In 1936, after receiving an invitation from Frederick Parsons, the state commissioner of mental hygiene, he chose to emigrate from Austria to the United States of America. In the US, he became an attending physician and researcher at the Harlem Valley State Hospital.

Dr. Sakel was the developer of insulin shock therapy from 1927 while a young doctor in Vienna, starting to practice it in 1933. It would become widely used on individuals with schizophrenia and other mental patients. He noted that insulin-induced coma and convulsions, due to the low level of glucose attained in the blood (hypoglycaemic crisis), had a short-term appearance of changing the mental state of drug addicts and psychotics, sometimes dramatically so. He reported that up to 88% of his patients improved with insulin shock therapy, but most other people reported more mixed results and it was eventually shown that patient selection had been biased and that it did not really have any specific benefits and had many risks, adverse effects and fatalities. However, his method became widely applied for many years in mental institutions worldwide. In the US and other countries it was gradually dropped after the introduction of the electroconvulsive therapy in the 1940s and the first neuroleptics in the 1950s.

Dr. Sakel died from a heart attack on 02 December 1957, in New York City, NY, US.

John Curtis Gowan

John Curtis Gowan (21 May 1912 to 02 December 1986) was a psychologist who studied, along with E. Paul Torrance, the development of creative capabilities in children and gifted populations.

Graduating from Thayer Academy, Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1929, John Gowan was only 17 when he entered Harvard University, earning his undergraduate degree four years later. A master’s degree in mathematics followed; he then moved to Culver, Indiana, where he was employed as a counsellor and mathematics teacher at Culver Military Academy from 1941 to 1952. Earning a doctorate from UCLA, he became a member of the founding faculty at the California State University at Northridge, where he taught as a professor of Educational Psychology from 1953 until 1975, when he retired with emeritus status.

Dr. Gowan became interested in gifted children after the Russians gained superiority in space with the 1957 launch of Sputnik. He formed the National Association for Gifted Children the following year. He was the group’s executive director and president from 1975 to 1979 and over the years wrote more than 100 articles and fourteen books on gifted children, teacher evaluation, child development, and creativity.

While at Northridge, he developed a program to train campus counsellors, was nominated in 1973 as outstanding professor, and had been a counsellor, researcher, Fulbright lecturer, and visiting professor at various schools including the University of Singapore, the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, the University of Hawaii, and Connecticut State College. He was a fellow of the American Psychological Association and was also a colleague of the Creative Education Foundation.

Besides his work in Educational Psychology as specifically related to gifted children, he also had an interest in psychic (or psychedelic) phenomena as it relates to human creativity. His work in this area was inspired by the writings of Aldous Huxley and Carl Jung. Based on his work in creativity and with gifted children, Dr. Gowan developed a model of mental development that derived from the work of Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson, but also included adult development beyond the ordinary adult successes of career and family building, extending into the emergence and stabilisation of extraordinary development and mystical states of consciousness. He described the entire spectrum of available states in his classic Trance, Art, & Creativity (1975), with its different modalities of spiritual and aesthetic expression. He also devised a test for self-actualisation, (as defined by Abraham Maslow), called the Northridge Developmental Scale.

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