The Beard in Psychiatry

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Journal of Humanistic Psychiatry Vol 1, Issue 1. Final draft to be published via, early 2013.

Fernando Espi Forcen, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, United States.

“Why do many psychiatrists grow a beard?”  This is a typical question that we commonly get after revealing our professional identity. One could make a case that psychiatrists grow beards to emulate some of the most important historical figures in the field, or to hide their emotions and maintain a position of neutrality while in therapy with their patients.

The beard has had different meanings throughout history. Roman emperor Hadrian grew a beard influenced by his fascination for the Greek culture. During the middle ages, the beard was a symbol of honor and virility. Later, the beard almost faced extinction until its new wave of popularity in the mid XIX century. In the XX century, the beards became progressively shorter but a new shiny period for facial hair came with the psychedelia and the hippy movement in the 60’s. Between the 80’s and the early first few years of the new millennium people shaved their beards again but over the last few years, the hipsters have brought back the long beards and moustaches in a way that resembles the XIX century’s style.

The beard could also be seen as a symbol of intellectualism. Needless to say, in medicine, psychiatrists and psychologists have taken big responsibility in the perpetuation of the beard. Jules Cotard, Karl Kahlbaum, Emil Kraepelin, Eugen Bleuler, Ivan Paulov, Josef Breuer, Sergei Korsakoff, Adolf Meyer and Sigmund Freud are good examples of it. From an evolutionary perspective, beards signal sexual maturity by increasing jaw size. A study carried by Daniel Freedman at the University of Chicago showed that women find men with beards more masculine and also, beards make them feel more feminine toward them. In 1973, Robert Pellegrini, did a similar study and concluded: “Judging from the data in the present research, the male beard communicates a heroic image of independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things.”

Those who enjoy wearing a beard are frequently asked why they decided to grow their facial hair. However, men are biologically determined to have a beard. Perhaps the question would make more sense if asked the other way around: “Why does a man decide to shave his beard?”

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