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Paul Rodney McHugh (born 1931) is an American psychiatrist, researcher, and educator. He is University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine[1] and the author, co-author, or editor of seven books within his field.

Paul McHugh
Paul Rodney McHugh

1931 (age 87–88)
Alma materHarvard Medical School, MD



Paul McHugh was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of a Lowell High School teacher and a homemaker.[2][3] He graduated from Harvard College in 1952 and from Harvard Medical School in 1956. While at Harvard he was "introduced to and ultimately directed away from the Freudian school of psychiatry".[4][5]

After medical school, McHugh's education was influenced by George Thorn, the physician-in-chief at the Harvard-affiliated Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women's Hospital). Thorn was disillusioned with Freudian psychiatry and felt that those who devoted themselves to it became single-minded, failing to improve as doctors. Thorn encouraged McHugh to develop a different career path, suggesting that he enter the field of psychiatry by first studying neurology. At Thorn's recommendation, McHugh was accepted into the neurology and neuropathology residency program at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he studied for three years under Dr. Raymond Adams, chief of the neurology department.[6]

From Massachusetts General, McHugh went to the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where he studied under Sir Aubrey Lewis and was supervised by James Gibbons and Gerald Russell. Following his year in London, McHugh went to the Division of Neuropsychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.[7]

McHugh is a practicing Catholic.[2] According to a 2002 New York Times article, he is a Democrat "who describes himself as religiously orthodox, politically liberal and culturally conservative—a believer in marriage and the Marines, a supporter of institutions and family values".[2]


After his training, McHugh held various academic and administrative positions, including Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College (where he founded the Bourne Behavioral Research Laboratory), Clinical Director and Director of Residency Education at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Westchester Division. After reportedly being passed over for the Cornell chair in favor of Robert Michels (physician), he left New York to become Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oregon.[citation needed]

From 1975 till 2001, McHugh was the Henry Phipps Professor of Psychiatry and the director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, he was psychiatrist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is currently University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.[8]

His own research has focused on the neuroscientific foundations of motivated behaviors, psychiatric genetics, epidemiology, and neuropsychiatry.[9]

During the 1960s, McHugh co-authored papers on hydrocephalus, depression and suicide, and amygdaloid stimulation.[citation needed]

In 1975, McHugh co-authored (along with M. F. Folstein and S. E. Folstein) a paper entitled "Mini-Mental State: A Practical Method for Grading the Cognitive State of Patients for the Clinician". This paper details the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), an exam consisting of just eleven questions, that quickly and accurately assesses patients for signs of dementia and other states of cognitive impairment. It is one of the most widely used tests in the mental health field.[citation needed]

In 1979, in his capacity as chair of the Department of Psychiatry, McHugh ended gender reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.[10]

In 1983, McHugh and colleague Phillip R. Slavney co-authored The Perspectives of Psychiatry, which presents the Johns Hopkins approach to psychiatry. The book "seeks to systematically apply the best work of behaviorists, psychotherapists, social scientists and other specialists long viewed as at odds with each other".[5] A second edition was published in 1998.

McHugh also treated author Tom Wolfe for depression suffered following coronary bypass surgery. Wolfe dedicated his 1998 novel, A Man in Full to McHugh, “whose brilliance, comradeship and unfailing kindness saved the day.”[11]

In 1992, McHugh announced that he was going to leave Johns Hopkins and accept a position as director and CEO of Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine quickly sought to retain him and was successful in doing so.[5]

In 1992, McHugh was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) - National Academies of Science - now the National Academy of Medicine.[12]

Throughout the decade of the 1990s, McHugh was active in debunking the idea of recovered memory — that is, the idea that people could suddenly and spontaneously remember childhood sexual abuse.[4][5]

In 2001, McHugh was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Council on Bioethics.[13] The Council was charged with the task of making recommendations as to what the U.S. federal government's policy regarding embryonic stem cells should be. McHugh was against using new lines of embryonic stem cells derived from in vitro fertilization but was in favor of the use of stem cells derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). In SCNT, the nucleus of a cell is removed and replaced by another cell nucleus. McHugh felt that cells created in this fashion could be regarded as tissue; whereas, stem cells taken from embryos caused the killing of an unborn child.[14]

In 2002, McHugh was appointed to a lay panel assembled by the Roman Catholic Church to look into sexual abuse by priests.[2] This appointment was controversial, as McHugh had previously served as expert witness in the defense of numerous priests accused of child sexual abuse.[15]

In 2012, McHugh and Slavney published an essay in The New England Journal of Medicine criticizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was soon to be published in its fifth edition. One of their main criticisms is that the DSM, since its third edition, uses a top-down checklist approach to diagnosis rather than a thorough bottom-up approach. McHugh compares the DSM to a field guide used by amateur birders to identify birds.[16][17]

McHugh was featured in a 2017 Netflix Documentary, The Keepers, for his role in the defense in the 1995 trial, Jane Doe et al. v. A. Joseph Maskell et al., which was a case involving the sexual abuse of two women at the hands of a Catholic Priest, Father Joseph Maskell.[18]

Gender, sexuality and sex reassignment surgeryEdit

McHugh opposes sex reassignment surgery for transgender people.[19] In 1979, he shut down the gender identity clinic at Johns Hopkins, saying that another researcher found that most of the people he tracked down who had undergone this type of surgery "were contented with what they had done and that only a few regretted it. But in every other respect, they were little changed in their psychological condition. They had much the same problems with relationships, work, and emotions as before. The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled".[20] He has said that medical treatment for transgender youth is “like performing liposuction on an anorexic child”,[21] described post-operative transgender women as “caricatures of women” because the surgery failed to change many of their male traits,[20] and stated that “The transgendered suffer a disorder of 'assumption.'”[19] McHugh considers homosexuality to be an “erroneous desire”[22] and supported California Proposition 8.[23] He co-authored a criticism of medical treatment for transgender youth[24] published by the conservative advocacy group American College of Pediatricians.

In August 2016, McHugh co-authored a 143-page review of the scientific literature on gender and sexuality in The New Atlantis, a journal published under the auspices of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.[25][26]



  • McHugh, P. R. (2006). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York: DANA.
  • ---. (2008). The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.


  • Hedblom, J. H., & McHugh, P. R. (2007). Last Call: Alcoholism and Recovery.
  • Fagan, P. J., & McHugh, P. R. Sexual Disorders: Perspectives on Diagnosis and Treatment.
  • Neubauer, D. N., & McHugh, P. R. Understanding Sleeplessness: Perspectives on Insomnia.
  • McHugh, P. R., & Slavney, P. R. (1998). The Perspectives of Psychiatry, 2nd ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.


  • McHugh, P. R., & McKusick. Eds. (1990). Genes, Brain, and Behavior.


  1. ^ Barstow, David (2009-07-26). "An Abortion Battle, Fought to the Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  2. ^ a b c d Goode, Erica (August 5, 2002). "Psychiatrist Says He Was Surprised by Furor Over His Role on Abuse Panel". The New York Times.
  3. ^ McHugh, Paul R. (2006). The mind has mountains: Reflections on society and psychiatry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, copyright page.
  4. ^ a b McHugh, P. R. (2008). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York, DANA, p. 26
  5. ^ a b c d Jim Duffy, Straight-shooting Shrink, Hopkins Medical News, Winter, 1999.
  6. ^ McHugh, P. R. (2008). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York, DANA, p. 26-29
  7. ^ McHugh, P. R. (2008). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York, DANA, p. 31
  8. ^ McHugh, P. R. (2008). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York, DANA Press.
  9. ^ "Paul R. McHugh, M.D." Archived from the original on February 13, 2010. Retrieved January 16, 2009.
  10. ^ Richard P. Fitzgibbons, M.D., Philip M. Sutton, and Dale O’Leary, The Psychopathology of “Sex Reassignment” Surgery, Assessing Its Medical, Psychological, and Ethical Appropriateness, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Spring 2009, p. 100.
  11. ^ Wolfe, Tom. (1998). A Man in Full. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  12. ^ "Paul R. McHugh Wins Institute of Medicine's 2008 Sarnat Prize in Mental Health".
  13. ^ "The President's Council on Bioethics (2001-2009)". President's Council on Bioethics. Georgetown University. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Zygote and 'Clonote': The ethical use of embryonic stem cells. in The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 237-241.
  15. ^ "Member of Sex Abuse Panel Upsets Some". New York Times. 26 July 2002. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  16. ^ "Archives - The Last Word?". Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  17. ^ McHugh, Paul R.; Slavney, Phillip R. (2012-05-17). "Mental Illness — Comprehensive Evaluation or Checklist?". New England Journal of Medicine. 366 (20): 1853–1855. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1202555. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 22591291.
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b "Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution". The Wall Street Journal. News Corporation. May 13, 2016. Retrieved June 5, 2016.
  20. ^ a b "Surgical Sex - Paul R. McHugh".
  21. ^ Chiaramonte, Perry (17 October 2011). "Controversial Therapy for Pre-Teen Transgender Patient Raises Questions".
  22. ^ Evans, Lydia (26 January 2010). "CHARLESTON, SC: Dr. Paul McHugh: "There Is No Gay Gene"". Virtueonline, The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism.
  23. ^ Kristin Perry v.Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dennis Hollingsworth United States Court of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit
  24. ^ Tannehill, Brynn (20 March 2016). "Johns Hopkins Professor Endangers the Lives of Transgender Youth".
  25. ^ McHugh Paul R., Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences
  26. ^ Ennis, Dawn (September 1, 2016). "Human Rights Campaign Sets Sights on Johns Hopkins After Controversial Trans Report". NBC News. Archived from the original on September 1, 2016.

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