Dr. James Strain, cutting-edge psychiatrist, teacher, author, was 90


It is with great sadness that the Strain family announces the passing of James Joseph Strain on Aug. 1, 2023, after a life full of integrity, creativity, service, and love. He was 90.

Born in Coldwater, Michigan, to Mildera and Roy Strain, he trained in botany at the University of Michigan, performed U.S. Navy service between 1954 and 1957, and obtained his M.D. from Case Western Reserve Medical School.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years Gladys, his three sons, seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and scores of colleagues, friends, and patients who will miss him dearly for his tireless energy, his selflessness, and amazing strength.

His wife accompanied him through psychiatry residency/fellowship between 1963 and 1967, and to Montefiore Hospital/Albert Einstein College of Medicine as assistant professor between 1968 and 1973.  He formalized his psychoanalysis with Dr. Charles Brenner at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. He became a professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine in 1979, eventually becoming director of the behavioral medicine and consultation division.

He was voted into the Icahn School of Medicine as professor of medical education in 2013 and Master Teacher in 2014.

He retired in December 2022 with multiple international awards and as a leader. He trained 140 post-graduate fellows in psychiatry. He was on the boards and committees of 21 institutions and 22 professional organizations. He reviewed and edited for 27 journals, wrote 577 publications, 807 presentations, six books, and had an active psychoanalytic practice for decades.

Fascinated with the interface of mental and physical disease, he researched electro-convulsive therapy, organic mental syndromes, and new metrics to quantitate cognitive dysfunction — the “Cognitive Capacity Screening Examination.” The first psychiatrist appointed to the Institute of Medicine Committee, he developed 19 algorithms in use by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, and the Public Health Service.

He was awarded three National Institutes of Mental Health grants, guided mental health training for primary care, and received a National Cancer Institute grant on breast cancer compliance. In the 1990s, he developed mobile electronic documentation for registration, charting, referrals, and statistics for psychiatric training.  It was used internationally in Spain, Portugal, Australia, Switzerland, England, Uruguay, 30 centers in Mexico, Argentina, and in 10 teaching hospitals in the United States.   

But his greatest strengths were his patience and caring as teacher, physician and leader.  He fervently tackled weaknesses in the medical system. He established a psychiatric service at Rikers Island. He investigated how psychiatric interventions affect medical care:  length of stay, long-term function, and decreased readmission.

The first chair of the dean’s ethics committee at Mount Sinai. He established protections for whistleblowing. He provided families and survivors of the World Trade Center 9/11 terrorist attack with long-term care.  He was awarded the Distinguished Life Fellow Award for 50 years of service to the American Psychiatric Association.

Internationally, he co-developed with Dr. Michael Blumenthal the “Psychosomatic Medicine World Wide” teaching method for remote regions of Europe and South America.  He taught western psychotherapy through the “China America Psychoanalytic Alliance” in 10 Chinese cities. He obtained grants with the Green Foundation and Upjohn Pharmaceuticals to provide, free of charge, “LitSearch” to 6,000 medical schools in the world.

His passions included travel, which led to him and Gladys seeing all 251 countries in the world, collecting African art — which they donated to museums — and attending the Metropolitan Opera at every opportunity.  He had the gift to see the best in everyone, and support them in their endeavors.

He will be incredibly missed.

Dr. James Strain, psychiatry, Gladys Strain, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine, cognitive capacity screening examination