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What Happened to Vladimir Bekhterev?

Today we understand how important psychology is in defining how well people work and function. The study has been around for centuries and was often misunderstood back in the day. But did you know the story about Stalin’s session with Vladimir Bekhterev?

People were not aware, but Stalin struggled with depression. He called on Vladimir Bekhterev, a world-renowned Russian psychiatrist, to check him. After the session, Bekhterev described Stalin as paranoic. The next day, he suddenly died.

Who is Vladimir Bekhterev?

Vladimir Bekhterev was born on January 20, 1857, in Sorali, Russia. He was a world-renowned neuropsychologist and psychiatrist who was very invested in condition reflexes.

In 1881, Bekhterev received his doctorate from the Medical-Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg. He then went abroad to study and came back to Russia in 1885. He started teaching at the University of Kazan as a professor of psychiatric disease and established the first experimental psychology laboratory in Russia the following year.

Bekhterev, like Ivan Pavlov, developed a theory of condition reflexes. He was known to compete with the father of classical conditioning. While Pavlov focused on his experiments, Bekhterev was busy working on the brain’s morphology. He discovered several symptoms and illnesses linked to neurological problems.

Bekhterev founded the Neurology Journal in 1896. It was the first Russian journal on nervous diseases. He was very objective, and his approach was evident in the results he got. He also authored other books such as; Conduction Paths in the Brain and Spinal Cord and Objective Psychology. (Source: Britannica)

Can Mental Illness Explain Stalin’s Violent Streak?

Towards the end of his life, Joseph Stalin would spend most of his free time in a suburb in Moscow. He would often be depressed when he was left alone. This made him summon four of his inner circle to join him for a meal or even a movie.

As soon as he woke up, he would ring us— the four of us—and either invite us to see a film or start some long conversation about a question that could have been resolved in two minutes.

Nikita Khrushchev

(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

Alexander Myasnikov was one of the physicians called to tend to Stalin when he was gravely ill. He kept secret diaries and noted that Stalin had suffered from a brain illness that could have influenced his decision-making.

The major atherosclerosis in the brain, which we found at the autopsy, should raise the question of how much this illness – which had clearly been developing over a number of years – affected Stalin’s health, his character and his actions. Stalin may have lost his sense of good and bad, healthy and dangerous, permissible and impermissible, friend and enemy. Character traits can become exaggerated, so that a suspicious person becomes paranoid.

Alexander Myasnikov

(Source: The Independent)

What was Bekhterev’s Involvment?

Years before Stalin passed, he set up a session with Vladimir Bekhterev. Stalin was feeling depressed and wanted the best in the field to check him up. After examining Stalin, Bekhterev mentioned his findings to some of his colleagues.

I have just examined a paranoiac with a short, dry hand.

Vladimir Bekhterev

The next day, Bekhterev died. There is speculation that Stalin poisoned him as revenge for the diagnosis he gave the dictator. Soon after, Stalin had all of Bekhterev’s names removed from his work. (Source: Scielo)

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