Ralph Hoffman, medical director of the adult intensive outpatient treatment program at Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and beloved psychiatry professor, died last week of illness. He was 66 years old.
Hoffman, who is survived by his wife, a psychologist, and his two children, is best known for his research focused on the pathophysiology of auditory hallucinations associated with schizophrenia. He was also well-known for developing a treatment method for auditory verbal hallucinations — otherwise known as “hearing voices” — which utilizes repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation treatments, a noninvasive technique consisting of a magnetic field emanating from a wire coil held outside the head which induces electric current in nearby regions of the brain. This method stimulates the areas of the brain active during patients’ hallucinations. The treatment has been replicated by groups around the world and is now considered an effective treatment for these symptoms.
Psychiatry Department Chair John Krystal praised Hoffman’s enthusiasm for his research, creativity, clinical acumen and commitment to his students and patients.
“Remarkably, Ralph developed his research career on top of a very busy clinical and administrative career,” Krystal said in a statement. “Ralph was held in high esteem for his clinical astuteness and kindness. His ability to deeply understand his patients’ experience of their illness and to carefully listen to them were the starting points for many of his theories and experiments.”
Hoffman first came to Yale in 1979 as a clinical and research fellow and became a professor in 1981. In addition to his research, teaching and clinical work, he held various administrative positions during his time at the University, including medical director, research director and acting psychiatrist-in-chief of the Yale Psychiatric Institute.
Judith Ford, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco medical school who worked on research with Hoffman, said that Hoffman was a “brilliant, caring and gentle psychiatrist and scholar,” as well as a “rare breed of scientist.” She also lauded Hoffman for his research’s reliance on patients’ explanations of their experiences.
“Ralph was a rare ‘phenomenologist’ in the U.S. He believed clinical neuroscience investigations should be informed by experiences patients reported,” Ford said. “He argued that careful listening and understanding of the details of auditory hallucinations was essential to developing realistic neurobiological theories of auditory hallucinations.”
Medical school professor Philip Corlett, who will continue Hoffman’s research, said that Hoffman’s work in the area of auditory hallucinations spanned psychology, philosophy, neuroscience and clinical practice.
Corlett added that Hoffman combined a meticulous scientific rigor and mathematical precision with the warm and plural approach of a master clinician, a combination he described as ideal for teaching and inspiring trainee psychiatrists and neuroscientists as well as enacting impactful translational research.
Medical school professor Ismene Petrakis described Hoffman as a wonderful colleague who contributed much to psychiatry.