The Austen Riggs Center Celebrates a Century of Pioneering Mental Health Care, Treatment, and Research



                                         The Austen Riggs Center celebrates 100 years.

Leading Psychiatric Hospital Marks its Centennial Year with a Series of Events and Exhibitions, Culminating with Fall Conference and Gala Celebration

“I have nothing to offer except a way of looking at things,” psychoanalyst Erik Erikson wrote in Childhood and Society(1950), offering a critical organizing principle for work at the Austen Riggs Center

Stockbridge, MA – March 4, 2019 – The Austen Riggs Center (Riggs) celebrates its one hundredth anniversary in 2019, and will mark the milestone of its founding with a series of engaging events, curated exhibitions, and a centennial conference, each honoring the institution’s historic legacy at the forefront of mental health treatment, patient care, and researchit was announced today by Eric M. Plakun, MD, Medical Director and CEO of the Austen Riggs Center. 

The Austen Riggs Center, founded in 1919 by Austen Fox Riggs, MD, in the western New England town of Stockbridge, MA, has thrived for 100 years with a unique “open setting” campus and state-of-the-art psychiatric care emphasizing individual psychotherapy for adults with complex psychiatric problems. This, along with significant contributions to research, clinical training, and advocacy, have established Riggs as a leading psychiatric hospital and residential treatment center in the US. 

"For a century, our integrated psychodynamic ‘way of looking at things’ has been our North Star in providing treatment that is transformative for many, and provides an opportunity for patients, many of whom have been labeled ‘treatment resistant,' to reclaim and take charge of their lives," said Plakun. "Today, Riggs continues to champion the centrality of relationships in human life; the ideals of respect for every patient’s voice, dignity, and authority; and the importance of attending to the meaning behind specific symptoms and behavior, while applying these values to the treatment of mental illness, and to furthering vital research and much-needed advocacy.”

Celebrating the current anniversary, and looking toward the future, the schedule of centennial-year special events will include:

  • “The Hospital on Main Street: Human Dignity and Mental Health,”an exhibition chronicling the founding of Riggs and its place in the history of mental health treatment. The Corner House at Austen Riggs, Stockbridge, MA. (Opening May 2019)
  • “Inspired: Norman Rockwell and Erik Erikson,”a collaborative exhibition exploring the dynamic relationship between Stockbridge artist Rockwell and Riggs notable staff psychoanalyst Erikson. Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA. (June - October 2019)
  • “The Mental Health Crisis in America: Recognizing Problems, Working Toward Solutions,” a Riggs centennial conference convened with national and international experts in the fields of mental health treatment, research, advocacy, and the law. Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. (September 21 - 22, 2019) 
  • 100th Anniversary Gala Celebration, a festive evening to mark the Riggs centennial milestone. Lenox, MA. (September 21, 2019)

Reflecting on the past, these are brief highlights of Riggs history and some notable staff members:

  • The Austen Riggs Center is incorporated on July 21, 1919, by Austen Fox Riggs, MD, as the “Stockbridge Institute for the Study and Treatment of Psychoneuroses,” a “nonprofit, voluntary institution.” It is later renamed the Austen Riggs Center
  • Dr. Riggs serves as Medical Director until his death in 1940. Though the approach to treatment has significantly changed since his time, the founding legacy of Dr. Riggs is central to the Center’s commitment to providing and promoting care that recognizes the enduring strength and competence of people suffering from mental illness.
  • Robert Knight, MD, an early contributor to the concept of borderline personality,is named Medical Director (1947-1966) and brings other eminent staff members from the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS, including; Margaret Brenman-Gibson, PhD;Merton Gill, MD; David Rapaport, PhD; and Roy Schafer, PhD. This clinical team launches an impressive period of psychoanalytictreatment and clinical research at Riggs. 
  • Erik Erikson, renowned psychoanalyst, joins the Riggs staff (1951-1960.) Erikson trains and influences a generation of clinicians and social scientists with his deep understanding that society and culture play an important role in human development. His impact continues to be felt today.
  • Joan Mowat Erikson comes to Riggs in 1951. An educator, artist, and dancer, she serves as Director of Activities, and founds the Activities Program where patients take up the role of student and work with professional artisans. She also founds the on-campus Nursery School. Both are still essential parts of the Riggs community today.
  • Edward R. Shapiro, MD,is named Medical Director and CEO (1991-2011), and introduces treatment teams, family therapy, a continuum of care, and systems theory, thereby establishing a remarkable leadership era at Riggs.
  • The Erikson Institute for Education and Research is established at Riggs in 1994 to further psychoanalytic education, research, and community engagement for clinicians, educators, researchers, and scholars, and to investigate and respond to complex problems faced by patients, individuals, groups, and society.

For more information about the Austen Riggs Center and the 2019 centennial, visit: www.austenriggs.org/100

About the Austen Riggs Center

Celebrating its centennial year in 2019, the Austen Riggs Center, located in Stockbridge, MA, is a leading psychiatric hospital and residential treatment program that has been serving adults since its founding in 1919. Within an open setting, patients participate in an intensive treatment milieu that emphasizes respectful engagement. Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy is provided four times a week by doctors on staff. The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center studies individuals in their social contexts through research, training, education, and outreach programs in the local community and beyond. Riggs is ranked a top-ten “Best Hospital in Psychiatry” by U.S. News & World Report. For more information, visit www.austenriggs.org




Aaron M. Beatty                                                                       Maurie Perl                                             Dan Scheffey
Riggs Communications Officer                                                maurie@maurieperl.com                        dan@scheffey.net
aaron.beatty@austenriggs.net                                                 (917) 678-8072                                       (917) 647-7626
(413) 931-5245

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