McLean Hospital

McLean Hospital
McLean Hospital
Location Belmont, Massachusetts, United States
Coordinates 42°23′37″N 71°11′28″W / 42.393658°N 71.191075°W / 42.393658; -71.191075Coordinates: 42°23′37″N 71°11′28″W / 42.393658°N 71.191075°W / 42.393658; -71.191075
Founded 1811

McLean Hospital (play /məkˈln/; also known as Somerville Asylum or Charlestown Asylum) is a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

It is noted for its clinical staff expertise and ground-breaking neuroscience research. It is also known for the large number of famous people who have been treated there, including mathematician John Nash,[1][2] singer-songwriters James Taylor[3][4] and Ray Charles,[3][5] poet Sylvia Plath, and authors Susanna Kaysen[3][4] and David Foster Wallace.

McLean maintains the world's largest neuroscientific and psychiatric research program in a private hospital. It is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare, which also owns Brigham and Women's Hospital.



Map of the McLean Insane Asylum from an 1884 atlas of Somerville, MA

McLean was founded in 1811 in a section of Charlestown, Massachusetts, that is now a part of neighboring Somerville, Massachusetts. Originally named Asylum for the Insane, it was the first institution organized by a cooperation of prominent Bostonians who were concerned about homeless mentally ill persons "abounding on the streets and by-ways in and about Boston." It was built around a Charles Bulfinch mansion, which became the hospital's administrative building; most of the other hospital buildings were completed by 1818. The institution was later given the name The McLean Asylum for the Insane in honor of one of its earliest benefactors, John McLean, who granted it enough money to build several such hospitals at the 1818 cost. A portrait of McLean now hangs in the present Administration Building, along with other paintings that were once displayed in the original hospital. In 1892, the facility was renamed McLean Hospital in recognition of broader views on the treatment of mental illness.

In 1895 the campus moved to Waverley Oaks Hill in Belmont, Massachusetts. The civil engineer Joseph Curtis and Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect who also conceptualized the Emerald Necklace public spaces of Boston, New York's Central Park, and Hartford's Institute of Living, were consulted on the selection of the hospital site. The move was necessitated by changes in Charlestown, including new rail lines and other distracting development. Olmsted was eventually treated at McLean, but there is no evidence that he was responsible for the design of the grounds.[6] [7] Once hospital construction began, Curtis was hired by the hospital and supervised the landscape work for many years.[8]

In the 1990s, facing falling revenue in a changing health care industry, the hospital drafted a plan to sell a percentage of its grounds for development by the Town of Belmont. The sale of the land became the root of a divisive and somewhat baroque political debate in the town during the late 1990s. Ultimately a plan to preserve some of Olmsted's original open space and to allow the town to develop mixed residential and commercial real estate prevailed over a plan to create only high-end residential development. The deal was finalized in 2005 and land development was well underway at the end of the year.

McLean is known widely for its treatment of teens, most specifically its treatment of BPD using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy developed by Marsha M. Linehan.

McLean is presently led by Scott L. Rauch,[9] President and Psychiatrist in Chief, who is known for his innovative work using brain imaging methods to study psychiatric dysfunction.

McLean is differentiated from its New England peers (such as The Institute of Living and the Brattleboro Retreat) by its combination of teaching, treatment, and research. Most other facilities focus on one of these priorities.

Artistic works inspired by McLean

One popular and anecdotal history of McLean is Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital (ISBN 1-891620-75-4). Memoirs of time spent within McLean's walls include Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted (ISBN 0-679-74604-8), which was made into a movie starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. Samuel Shem's roman à clef Mount Misery tells a story inspired at least in part by the author's experiences at McLean. The 1994 Under Observation: Life Inside A Mental Hospital (ISBN 0-14-025147-2, ISBN 0-395-63413-X) by Lisa Berger and Alexander Vuckovic uses some fictional techniques (composite characters, etc.) to describe some of the typical events at Mclean. James Taylor's "Knockin' 'Round the Zoo" recalls his stay at McLean as a teenager.[4][10] Douglas S. Holder, who ran poetry groups in inpatient wards for over a decade, published Poems of Boston and Just Beyond: From the Back Bay to the Back Ward.

Facts about the hospital

Administration Building
  • McLean Hospital is currently ranked 3rd among all psychiatric hospitals in the country according to U.S. News and World Report.[1]
  • McLean ranks among the top 15 hospitals worldwide receiving National Institutes of Health grant support.
  • It is home to the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, the largest "brain bank" in the world.
  • The hospital developed and implemented national health screenings for alcohol, depression and memory disorders.
  • McLean Hospital is a teaching hospital for Harvard University Residents and the continued development of Harvard faculty.
  • The Cole Resource Center, a mental health consumer resource and advocacy center, is located at the hospital.

Famous patients



  1. ^ "Interview with John Nash: My aren". 
  2. ^ "About the Author - Chronology of Plath's Life". The Bell Jar. CliffsNotes. Archived from the original on 2007-03-13. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  3. ^ a b c Sale, Jonathan (May 4, 2006). "Ray Charles played piano all the time". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  4. ^ a b c Beam, Alex (November 26, 2001). "Shrink Wrapped Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll Were Regular Features of Life at McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Belmont". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  5. ^ "Ray Charles Plays the "Harvard Club"". Harvard Magazine. January–February 2002. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  6. ^ "Olmsted's life, legacy fuel enduring fascination". The Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 
  8. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 
  9. ^ Staff Biography of Dr. Scott L. Rauch - McLean Hospital
  10. ^ White, Timothy (2001). James Taylor: James Taylor, His Life and Music. London: Omnibus. p. 16. ISBN 071198803X 

Further reading

  • Beam, Alex (2003). Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital. Public Affairs. ISBN 1586481614. 
  • Lisa, Berger (1994). Under Observation: Life Inside the McLean Psychiatric Hospital. Tiknor & Fields. ISBN 0140251472. 
  • Charles, Ray; Ritz, David (2003). Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story. Da Capo Press. pp. 263–265. ISBN 0306813351.  (on his time spent at McLean Hospital)
  • Little, Nina Fletcher (1972). Early years of the McLean Hospital. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. 
  • Sutton, Silvia Barry (1986). Crossroads in Psychiatry: A History of the McLean Hospital. American Psychiatric Press. ISBN 0880482532. 
  • Weitz, Don; Burstow, Bonnie (1988). Shrink resistant: The Struggle Against Psychiatry in Canada:. New Star Books. pp. 286–288. ISBN 0919573835.  (on his time spent at McLean Hospital)

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