In memoriam: Dr. Ralph E. Hoffman, pioneer in study of auditory hallucinations

Dr. Ralph E. Hoffman, professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 66.

Dr. Ralph E. Hoffman, professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 66.

Dr. Ralph E. Hoffman

Hoffman was a world-renowned pioneering researcher into the pathophysiology of auditory hallucinations, an often disabling symptom of schizophrenia that is resistant to treatment. In addition, he developed an innovative treatment for auditory verbal hallucinations, utilizing repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation treatments. In 1987, Hoffman and his colleague, Dr. Tom McGlashan, authored a paper linking “aberrant synaptic pruning” in key cortical regions of the developing adolescent brain to the onset of schizophrenia and the specific symptoms that accompany the disorder.

“Ralph and his collaborators at Yale and elsewhere fundamentally contributed to our understanding of auditory hallucinations,” wrote Dr. John Krystal, chair of Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, in a tribute to his former colleague.

He added: “Ralph’s career was distinguished by a distinctive creativity and his capacity to apply his distinctive mathematical gifts with insights that emerged from his open and intuitive clinical sensibility. … 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 received his B.S. in mathematics from Brown in 1971 and his M.D. from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1976. He did his psychiatry residency at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York in 1979. He came to Yale for fellowship training in 1979 and went on to become a faculty member in psychiatry and an active member of the translational neuroscience community for the past 36 years.

In addition to being a researcher and clinician, Hoffman served in many administrative capacities, including medical director, research director, and acting psychiatrist-in-chief for the Yale Psychiatric Institute. At the time of his death, he was medical director of the YPH Adult Intensive Outpatient Program.

“Ralph was a good friend and an inspiring, gentle, and generous colleague, mentor, and collaborator,” said Krystal. “Seeing him bicycling around New Haven provided numerous opportunities for ‘roadside chats’ where one could not help getting caught up in his enthusiasm for his research nor fail to be impressed by his creativity, his clinical acumen, and his commitment to his students and to his patients. His enthusiasm for science was present right up to the time of his death.”

Hoffman was the recipient of many honors from groups in the United States and around the world. In 1992, the Yale Department of Psychiatry awarded him its highest honor for a clinician and educator, the Stephen Fleck award.

Hoffman is survived by his wife, Mary Ann Frank, a New Haven psychologist; and by his twins, Lily and Lucas, who are both in college.

There will be no public funeral for Hoffman, but the Department of Psychiatry, in collaboration with Hoffman’s family, is planning to hold a memorial for him at a later date.

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