Dr. Leon Eisenberg received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (1946) and took his internship at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He served for two years as Captain in the Army Medical Corps and then completed a residency in psychiatry at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital (1952) and a Fellowship in Child Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Hospital under Professor Leo Kanner (1954). He became Chief of Child Psychiatry at Hopkins in 1961 and moved to Harvard in 1967 as Chief of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1980, he became Chair of the Department of Social Medicine and Health Policy. In July of 1993, Dr. Leon Eisenberg reached Emeritus status at Harvard Medical School but continues to work full time. He has served as consultant to the Division of Mental Health at the World Health Organization in Geneva in multiple capacities since 1964 and to the Pan American Health Organization since 1988.
He identified rapid return to school as the key to treatment in the management of the separation anxiety underlying school phobia. He completed the first outcome study of autistic children in adolescence and recognized patterns of language use as the best predictor of prognosis. He introduced randomized controlled trials in psychopharmacology and showed that "tranquilizing" drugs were inferior to placebo in the treatment of anxiety disorders, whereas stimulant drugs were effective in controlling hyperactivity. He completed the first RCTs of psychiatric consultation to social agencies and of the utility of brief psychotherapy in anxiety disorders. He published a forceful critique of Lorenz's instinct theory; he established the usefulness of distinguishing "disease" from "illness"; he has highlighted the environmental context as a determinant of the phenotype emerging from a given genotype.
He is the recipient of honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the University of Manchester in the UK (1973) and the University of Massachusetts in the U.S. (1991). He has received the Aldrich (1980) and Dale Richmond (1989) Awards from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association Agnes Purcell McGavin Award for Prevention (1994), the distinguished Alumnus Award of the University of Pennsylvania (1992), the Thomas W. Salmon Medal of the New York Academy of Medicine (1995), the Blanche F. Ittleson Memorial Award of the American Orthopsychiatric Association (1996), and the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat prize for outstanding contributions to mental health from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences (1996). In 2003, he received the Award for Distinguished Contribution to Public Policy from the Society for Research in Child Development, a Distinguished Service Award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Walsh McDermott Medal from the Institute of Medicine, and the Ruane Prize for Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Research from the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression. He received a Human Rights Award from the American Psychiatric Association in 2005. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Greek Society of Neurology and Psychiatry, of the Ecuadorian Academy of Neuroscience, and of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK). He is proudest of the Diversity Lifetime Achievement Award he received in 2001 for his role in inaugurating affirmative action at HMS in 1968 and sustaining it as Chairman of the Admissions Committee from 1969 to 1974. He regards that as his most important contribution to Harvard Medical School.
The World Psychiatric Association award Dr. Eisenberg its Juan Jose Lopez Ibor Award in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2008. In 2009, the Leon Eisenberg Chair of Child Psychiatry was established at Children's Hospital Boston.
He has published widely: more than 250 articles in refereed journals, 144 chapters in books, and 11 edited books. Among the books he edited or co-edited are World Mental Health: Problems and Priorities in Low-Income Countries (Oxford University Press, 1995); The Best Intentions: Unintended Pregnancy and the Well-Being of Children and Families (National Academy Press, 1995); The Implications of Genetics for Health Professional Education (Macy Foundation, 1999); and Bridging Disciplines in the Brain, Behavioral and Clinical Sciences (National Academy Press, 2000).
Dr. Eisenberg was a charter Senior Fellow of the Ethics Center, one of a group of distinguished Harvard faculty members supporting the idea, in 1986, of an ethics initiative at the University.