Emil Kraepelin Biography

Emil Kraepelin, a renowned German psychiatrist, is widely recognized as the founder of psychopharmacology and psychiatric genetics. His groundbreaking theories on the origin of mental disorders challenged previous notions and emphasized the importance of clinical observation. Through extensive research and meticulous publication of his findings in a nine-volume textbook on psychiatry, Kraepelin laid the foundation for modern-day psychiatry. He advocated for the classification of mental illnesses based on clinical similarities and initiated reforms in asylums that considered all mental disorders as variations of a single disease. Kraepelin’s concept of categorizing mental illness into exogenous and endogenous factors gained popularity in the twentieth century and his contributions to psychiatry continue to be highly regarded by physicians worldwide.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In February Also Known As: Крепелин, Эмиль
  • Died At Age: 70
  • Born Country: Germany
  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Died on: October 7, 1926
  • Place of death: Munich, Germany
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Psychopharmacology and Psychiatric genetics
  • Education: Leipzig University, University of Würzburg, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Childhood & Early Life

Emil Kraepelin was born on 15 February, 1856 in the town of Neustrelitz in Mecklenburg-Strelitz district of Germany. As a child he was acquainted to biology through his elder brother Karl.

After completing his schooling, he embarked on study of medicine at the ‘Leipzig University’. Under the tutelage of Paul Flechsig and Wilhelm Wundt he learnt the subjects of neuropathology and experimental psychology. In 1878, he was awarded a Medical Degree from the ‘University of Würzburg’.

Emil then enrolled at the ‘University of Munich’ for his doctoral studies in 1879. With Bernhard von Gudden as his doctoral advisor, Kraepelin worked on his dissertation titled ‘The Place of Psychology in Psychiatry’.


In 1882, Emil began work in the field of psychopharmacology at Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory in the Leipzig University. He was also involved in the study of neurology under neurologist Wilhelm Heinrich Erb.

In his first ever publication ‘Compendium der Psychiatrie’, in 1883, Kraepelin stated the importance of modification in the evaluation of mental illness and insisted that psychiatry should be included into mainstream medical science.

In 1884, he took up a job as a senior physician in Leubus, Germany and a year later the ‘Treatment and Nursing Institute’ named Emil as their director.

The ‘University of Dorpat’ in Estonia appointed him as a professor in 1885and during his time there he was eventually promoted as the director of the healthcare and medical education institute affiliated to the university. It was in Dorpat that Emil started his work on classifying mental disorders.

From 1890, Kraepelin served as the head of the psychiatric studies department at the ‘University of Heidelberg’. For over the fourteen years he was in Heidelberg, Emil worked to improvise his existing finding and publish the refined inferences in continuation to the first volume of his work ‘Compendium der Psychiatrie’.

During the period 1903-22, he worked as a professor at the ‘University of Munich’. When the ‘German Society of Psychiatry’ approached him, he pioneered the establishment of a research centre ‘German Institute for Psychiatric Research’ and supervised the entire process till the institution was established in 1917.

In 1922 he was appointed the director of Munich’s ‘Research Institute of Psychiatry’ and Kraepelin retired from academic position to concentrate on the institute.

Major Works

Kraepelin concluded from clinical observations that the syndromes observed over time in mental diseases should form the basis of classification of these disorders rather than just the occurring similarities. He conducted exhaustive research on patients suffering with various mental disorders and categorised them into exogenous and endogenous disorders.

While exogenous disorders were a result of external factors and were considered more curable, the endogenous disorders which were attributed to biological and hereditary factors were deemed untreatable. Another of his significant contribution which laid the foundation for modern day psychiatry was his segregation of the concept of psychosis. According to the ‘Kraepelinian dichotomy’ the mental diseases are broadly divided into ‘manic depression’ (or bipolar disorder) and ‘dementia praecox’ (or schizophrenia). In the fourth and sixth edition of his textbook on psychiatry he published his findings in detail.

Personal Life & Legacy

This famous psychiatrist breathed his last on 7 October 1926, in Munich. At the time of his death he was working on the ninth publication of his textbook on psychiatry that was published the following year.

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