A Tribute to Carl Bell, a Rebel in Psychiatry

Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD


October 17, 2019

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hello. This is Dr Jeffrey Lieberman of Columbia University's department of psychiatry. The title of my talk, "A Tribute to [a Rebel in Psychiatry]," refers to a recently departed colleague, Dr Carl Bell, a psychiatrist from Chicago who died on August 2, 2019.

I first met Carl some years ago when we were both on the same committee of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). However, I really didn't get to know him until I became president of the APA in 2013 and regularly chaired meetings in which Carl was a participant. From that experience, I can say that Carl was the bane of any chairperson's existence who was trying to conduct an orderly meeting. He was brash, outspoken, and relentless in making sure that the topics he felt were important were heard, and he repeatedly made this clear until he felt that they got the attention that they deserved. I didn't always agree with Carl, nor did I welcome his repeated intrusions in the otherwise orderly proceedings of the many forums in which we participated together. But over time my irritation grew into respect and, ultimately, affection.

As my tenure as APA president wound down and the annual meeting of May 2014 approached, I was asked to list the individuals to whom I felt distinguished service awards should be presented. Carl was high up on my list. Regardless of what you felt about his tactics, his repeated interruptions, his style, his single-minded focus on the rights of underrepresented minorities, you had to appreciate his sincerity, honesty, and integrity. I also even came to respect his fashion statements, with the various hats and other sartorial accoutrements in which he would attire himself.

At the annual meeting in May 2014, in front of 10,000 people—in all due candor, the attendance was likely due to keynote speaker Vice President Biden coming on next—when I presented the award to Carl, our eyes locked in an affectionate and mutually respectful embrace that reached across what, under other circumstances, may have been chasms of differences.

I last saw Carl at the APA's 175th anniversary gala, held in San Francisco's City Hall. Carl was decked out in formal attire, as the occasion warranted, but with his buckskin cowboy hat jauntily placed on top of his head. As he moved past me, I grabbed his arm and gave him a hearty greeting, followed by a firm handshake and a hug. We briefly exchanged pleasantries and then he disappeared into the throng.

That's how I will remember Carl: fondly, respectfully, and often surprisingly. We will miss him and all of the important contributions that he made to our field and to our society. May he rest in peace.

Thank you for listening. This is Dr Jeffrey Lieberman, speaking to you today for Medscape.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.