In 2007 there was the 150th anniversary of V.M. Bekhterev - a scientist of encyclopedic knowledge: neuropathologist, psychiatrist, morphologist, physiologist, founder of the Russian school of psychoneurologists.

Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev was born on 20.01 (01.02 N.S.) 1857 in the village of Soraly, Yelabuga District, Vyatka Province - today village Bekhterevo, Republic of Tatarstan.

V.M. Bekhterev's father - Mikhail Pavlovich - was a district police officer; his mother, Maria Mikhailovna -a daughter of a titular councilor, was educated at a boarding school which also provided lessons of music and the French language. Beside Vladimir they had two more sons in the family called Nikolai and Aleksandr, older than he for 6 and 3 years respectively. In 1864 the family moved to Vyatka, and in a year the head of the family died of tuberculosis. The material situation of the family was very difficult, nevertheless the siblings received higher education.

In 1873, at the age of 16, 5 years V.M. Bekhterev entered the Medico-Surgical Academy (MSA) in Saint-Petersburg. Soon after the entrance he had a mental derangement - "acute neurasthenia" (diagnosis by V.M. Bekhterev himself) provoked perhaps by the new conditions of life in the capital for a provincial youth, but 28 days of treatment in the clinic of mental and nervous diseases restored his health. May be for this reason, being a student of the 4th year he chose the speciality - nervous and mental diseases - but in his autobiography he explained this choice by the circumstance that it gave him an opportunity to remain nearer to the public life. As a student of the last year Bekhterev took part in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877 - 1888 in the ranks of the "Ryzhov brothers' mobile medical unit". One of the brothers was lecture-goer of the Medico-Surgical Academy. The unit consisted of 12 persons with 7 medical students of the MSA among them. Under the pen-name of "Sanitarian" Bekhterev wrote short notes to the "Severny Vestnik" (Northern Herald) newspaper. In 1878 Bekhterev passed his final examinations ahead of time and very successively and was retained in the Professors' Institute of the Academy for further specialization

On 09. 09.1879 Bekhterev married Nataliya Petrovna Bazilevskaya who was an acquaintance of him as long as since the gymnasium years in Vyatka. They had six children: Yevgeny, born in 1880, died soon; Olga was born in 1883, Vladimir - in 1887, Pyotr - in 1888, Yekaterina - in 1890, and the most beloved daughter Maria - in 1904.

In 1881 Bekhterev defended a thesis for the scientific degree of the Doctor of Medicine with the topic: "An experience of clinical investigation of the body temperature in some forms of mental diseases", and on November 20th of the same year he was conferred the academic rank of Privat-Docent. In 1883 the Italian Society of Psychiatrists elected V.M. Bekhterev its active member and the Society of Russian Physicians awarded him a Silver Medal for the investigation "On forced and compulsive movements due to destruction of certain parts of the Central Nervous System".

As a candidate for a study course V.M. Bekhterev submitted to the competition board 58 works on various issues of experimental investigations and clinical picture of nervous and mental diseases, and on 01.06.1884 by the decision of the Conference of the Academy he was sent to Germany, to his first scientific voyage abroad. V.M. Bekhterev visited the lectures of Carl Friedrich Otto Westpfahl, Kurt Mendel, Emil Dubois-Reymond and other well-known German scientists who dealt with the investigation of the nervous system. Later he worked in Leipzig with the greatest neurologist and morphologist of that time Paul Emil Flechsig to whom he soon dedicated his first fundamental monography entitled "Pathways of the brain and spinal cord". Here he also began to study psychology in the laboratory of famous Wilhelm Wundt. In December 1884 V.M. Bekhterev received an official invitation of the Minister of Public Education Delyanov to occupy the chair of psychiatry in the Kazan' Univesity. He accepted this invitation with some preconditions, one of which provided for the completion of the full programme of the scientific voyage. After Leipzig Bekhterev visited Paris where he acquainted himself with the work of the great Jean-Martin Charcot, and then Munich (Prof. B. Gudden's Clinic) and concluded his study trip in the summer of 1885 in the clinic of Prof. Theodor Meynert.

In the autumn of 1885 V.M. Bekhterev began working in the Kazan' University. He reorganized the Chair of Psychiatry and soon founded there a psychophysiological laboratory the first in Russia where he began studying morphology of the nervous system. During the Kazan' period of his life V.M. Bekhterev has enriched the science with discoveries in the field of anatomy and physiology of different structures of the brain and spinal marrow. These researches were summarized in the first monograph "Brain and spinal cord pathways" (1983); three years later, in 1896, he published the second, considerably revised edition threefold as voluminous and supplemented by 302 drawings maid from the brain preparations. It is a collection of empirical materials of immense value obtained both by the author himself and other researchers. The German Professor F. Kopsch (1868-1955) said that "only two individuals, namely the God and Bekhterev, know excellently the anatomy of the brain". In 1892 V.M. Bekhterev was initiator of the organization of the Kazan' Neurological Society, and in 1893 he founded the "Nevrologicheskiy Vestnik" (Bulletin of Neurology) Journal and was its editor for many following years.

On September 26, 1893 V.M. Bekhterev replaced his teacher I.P. Merzheyevskiy (1838-1908) who retired after prolonged service, on the post of the Head of the Chair of Mental and Nervous Diseases, Military Medical Academy in Saint Petersburg and became Director of the Clinic of Mental Diseases, Clinical Military Hospital on whose grounds the Chair was located. Here he continued his work begun already in Kazan' and concluded by the publication of the monograph "The foundations of the teaching of the brain functions" in 1903-1907. This work of 2500 pages in length contains an analysis of functions of different areas of nervous system. In 1909 the work was translated into German. During his service in the MMA (1893-1913) the V.M. Bekhterev's family occupied a government-owned apartment in the buildings of the MMA (9, Botkinskaya Street).

In 1896 in St. Petersburg V.M. Bekhterev founded the "Revue of Psychiatry, Neurology and Experimental Psychology", and in 1897 the new-built Clinic of Nervous Diseases of the Military Medical Academy (2, Lesnoy Pr.) was opened where a special surgery functioned conducting surgical treatment of several nervous and mental diseases.

In the winter of 1905-1906 V.M. Bekhterev was acting Head of the MMA. In his autobiography he wrote of that times: "I was demanded to conduct the Academy as an Institution belonging to the Military Department "successfully" through the storm and onrush of the revolution. I can say that it was fulfilled with honour, but it would be unnecessary to recount here the details of all the events that occurred in the Academy at that time." The Minister of War invited V.M. Bekhterev to take up to take this position "definitively…remaining simultaneously Head of the Chair and Director of the Clinic", but V.M. Bekhterev refused: in that years his scientific interests were directed at the study of psychology - in 1903 he proposed for the first time to found the Psychoneurological Institute. These ideas were realized successfully in 1907. In the same year was conferred a degree of Honored Ordinary Professor.

In the following four years full of cares connected with the organization of the Institute V.M. Bekhterev accomplished the "Objective Psychology" a monograph in three volumes. In 1911 the first Institute's own buildings were erected in the so-called Tsar's Town, Nevskiy District of St. Petersburg. They were built by the court architect R.F. Meltser, a prominent specialist in building of medical institutions. In the same year 1911 V.M. Bekhterev published the monograph "Hypnosis, suggestion and hypnotherapy and their curative significance".

In 1912 within the structure of the Psychoneurological Institute there was opened the Experimental Clinical Institute for Alcoholism Studies; a year later the international scientific community decided to transform it into the International Scientific Center. On January 19, 1913 the Institute's Council unanimously elected V.M. Bekhterev President of the Institute for the next five years; and the documents concerning this decision were sent to the Ministry of Public Education for approval.

In September and October V.M. Bekhterev took part in the "Beilis case" widely discussed in Russia: he performed a repeated psychiatric assessment and proved innocence of Mendel Beilis (the latter was accused of ritual killing of 13 years old orthodox boy Andrei Yushchinskiy, and according to the findings of the first assessment conducted by Professor I.A. Sikorskiy, this possibility could not be excluded). After V.M. Bekhterev's communication in the trial, M. Beilis was acquitted by jury. The examination in the Beilis case entered in the history of science as the first forensic psychological psychiatric examination.

On October 5th, immediately after the V.M. Bekhterev's communication concerning the "Beilis case", the Minister's of Public Education L.A. Kasso (1865-1914) reply to the application of the Psychoneurological Institute was received where he wrote that he did not found it "possible to approve the Academician, Privy Councillor Bekhterev as the President of the Institute for following five years" At the same time V.M. Bekhterev was dismissed from the Military Medical Academy and Women's Institute.

In 1913 Bekhterev's family settled down in their private house built according to design of architect R.F. Meltser on the Kamenny Ostrov (Stone Island) in the outskirts of St. Petersburg. In those times there were utility outhouses situated near the mansion, such as stable, garage for the scientist's car etc. (today remained the main building only). Besides, the family had a dacha (country cottage) "Quiet Coast" on the shore of the Finnish Gulf (in the environs of today's village Smolyachkovo, then Lautaranta) where they used to spend Sundays, holidays and the whole summer. Quite often Bekhterev visited the Russian painter I.Ye. Repin (1844-1930) in his estate "Penaty" situated not far off, some thirty versts (50 km), from the Bekhterev's dacha. As the scientist's daughter Maria recollected they used to ride to Repin's on horses along the gulf over the quicksands about twice a summer and on the Saint Elijah day without fail. In the summer of 1913 I.Ye. Repin painted the famous portrait of V.M. Bekhterev today kept in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, and its author's replica - in the V.M. Bekhterev Memorial Museum located in the Psychoneurological Institute. The sculptured bust of the scientist by E.A. Blokh is also kept in the same Museum. When sitting for his sculptural image V.M. Bekhterev himself also had modeled a head of a suffering boy of a piece of clay and the sculptor Blokh joined this work by the scientist with the bust of Bekhterev made by himself. The meaning of this striking composition is: patient's suffering represents the essence of Bekhterev as a physician.

During the World War I V.M. Bekhterev assisted in the re-equipment of the Psychoneurological Institute into a military hospital with a first-class neurosurgical department later converted into the first Neurusurgical Institute in Russia. In 1916 educational divisions of the Psychoneurological Institute were transformed into a Private Petrograd University.

V.M. Bekhterev accepted the Russian revolution of 1917 and since December 1917 began working in the Scientific Medical Department of the Narkompros (Comissariat for Education). Since 1918 he is already a member of the Scientific Council attached to Narkompros and in the same year he succeeded in organizing the Institute for Brain and Mental Activity Research (Brain Institute) to which the Government assigned the building of the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich Junior (2, Petrovskaya Nab.). Intensive researches within the framework of the new scientific direction designated by V.M. Bekhterev as reflexology commenced in the Institute immediately. In the same year his monograph "General foundations of reflexology" appears.

In 1918, the Private Petrograd University at the Psychoneurological Institute obtained a formal status of the Second Petrograd University. But in 1919 reorganization of higher school took place resulting in that faculty of law and educational department were transferred to the First Petrograd University, medicine faculty was transformed into the State Institute of Medical Knowledge (GIMZ), chemico-pharmaceutical department - into Chemico-Pharmaceutical Institute, zooveterinary faculty - into Veterinary-and-Zootechnic Institute. Thus system of training created in the University at the Psychoneurological Institute was so perfect that in case of emerging necessity different faculties and even departments were transformed into separate institution of higher education without especial difficulties.

On January 1, 1920 V.M. Bekhterev addressed in the press physicians of all the world with a protest against the subsistence blockade of Russia organized by the Entente powers. This appeal in the press was also transmitted by radio overseas the same day. The address of the world-known scientist exerted a certain influence upon the public opinion in foreign countries, and after a while newspapers reported that the blockade will soon be raised.

Since 1920 till the end of his life V.M. Bekhterev was Deputy of the Petrograd Soviet and took active part in the work of the standing commission for public education.

In 1921 V.M. Bekhterev secured reorganization of the system of scientific research institutions of the Psychoneurological Institute into the Psychoneurological Academy and was elected its President. In the same year V.M. Bekhterev published the "Collective reflexology" monograph. At that period the scientist gave much attention to studying physiology of labour processes of different professions and the issues of scientific organization of work.

Colleagues of V.M. Bekhterev and his relatives note in their recollections his distinctive feature - his unbelievable capacity for work. In intervals between lectures he did not rest, but conducted s??nces of hypnosis in an adjacent lecture-room. He constantly wrote something, even when on the journey. He slept not more than 5 to 6 hours a day and went to bed usually at 3 in the night. Having awaked, often without yet having got up V.M. Bekhterev began to work on manuscripts. He was modest and undemanding. External living conditions did not play any role for him and his work. Three times a week V.M. Bekhterev held domiciliary receptions of patients from eight hours in the evening and quite often till deep into the night (up to 40 patients in one evening).

In summer in his dacha V.M. Bekhterev slept and worked on a balcony with a huge opened window overlooking the gulf, here stood a small table and a comfortable straw armchair sitting in which he sometimes wrote poetry for relaxation gradually having accumulated quite a few of them. He valued his time and almost did not walk. He ate little, mainly vegetarian and milk dishes. For breakfast he preferred thick oatmeal kissel with milk. For a midday meal he was served separately with unseasoned fresh salad in whole leaves. He neither took alcohol nor smoked at all. And he bathed systematically in the gulf till late autumn.

V.M. Bekhterev's brilliant abilities, inquisitive mind, inflexible persistence in pursuing the determined goal and really unmatched capacity for work were directed at successive resolving of the most difficult problems of medical theory and practice in research, treatment and prevention of nervous and mental diseases.

After the Russian revolution of 1917 Bekhterev's wife Natalia Petrovna lived in the dacha of "Quiet Coast" which was now in Finland, out of Russian borders. In the times of post-revolutionary devastation the second wife appeared in the life of V.M. Bekhterev - it was Bertha Yakovlevna Gurzhi (maiden name Are). B.Ya. Gurzhi - an office worker in the Commission for Improvement of living conditions of scientists (KUBUCH) - allowed V.M. Bekhterev to use her flat in the centre of St. Petersburg for receptions of his patients. After the death of Natalia Petrovna in 1926 Bekhterev officially registered his relations with Bertha Yakovlevna and she began to use his family name.

In 1927 V.M. Bekhterev was conferred the degree of Honoured Scientist. On December 24, 1927 during the proceedings of the 1st All-Union Congress of neuropathologists and psychiatrists of Moscow where V.M. Bekhterev had presented a paper he died suddenly. The circumstances of his disease within a day, lack of professionalism of conducted treatment, peculiarities of autopsy (only the brain was extracted and examined), hasty cremation in Moscow and subsequent consignment of the scientist to oblivion for 30 years - all it suggests an idea of the violent nature of his death. Bertha Yakovlevna who accompanied Bekhterev to Moscow was at his death-bed when he deceased. In 1937 she was subjected to repression and executed by shooting in a month after the arrest. The urn with the ashes of V.M. Bekhterev kept in the V.M. Bekhterev Memorial Museum for many years, was buried on the "Literators' Gangway" of the Volkovo Cemetery in St.Petersburg only in 1970. The author of the monument is M.K. Anikushin (1917-1997).

The "Systematic index of works and presentations of V.M. Bekhterev published in Russian" compiled by O.B. Kazanskaya and T.Ya. Khvilivitskiy in 1954 contains about a thousand titles. These works reflect discoveries by V.M. Bekhterev in morphology and physiology of the nervous system, descriptions of 19 new forms of diseases in psychoneurology, inventions of many new methods of diagnosis and treatment, etc. It is well known that V.M. Bekhterev had performed forensic psychiatric examination about a thousand times. The "Vestnik Znaniya" [Knowledge Bulletin] journal published in 1926 a list of institutions and journals appeared on initiative and with direct participation of Vladimir Mikhailovich: institutions - 33, journals - 10. Subsequent investigations of the scientist's work allowed to add to them more 17 institutions and 2 journals. The work at bibliography of V.M. Bekhterev's works is continuing and at present we have identified 1350 works in Russian and about 500 in another languages, mainly in German and French, published in different journals and as separate editions. However, complete works of Bekhterev have not yet been published.

In 1957 in connection with the Centenary of the scientist the street where the Psychoneurological institute is situated was named Bekhterev Street. In 1960 a monument to V.M. Bekhterev was erected in front of the main building of the Institute (author M.K. Anikushin) and a memorial plaque was hanged on the building bearing the following inscription: "Academician V.M. Bekhterev, founder of the Psychoneurological Institute, worked here from 1908 to 1927. "


  • M.A. Akimenko, A.M. Shereshevskiy // History of the V.M. Bekhterev Institute, part 1, 2, 3. SPb., 2000 - 296 p., 2001 - 278 p., 2002 - 289 p.;
  • Archives of the V.M. Bekhterev Memorial Museum. Section 1 "Biographical"
  • V.M. Bekhterev // Autobiography (posthumous edition). "Ogonyok" Soc. Publ., M., 1928. - 31 p.;
  • V.M. Bekhterev // The future of psychiatry. Introduction to pathological reflexology, SPb., 1997. - 330 p.;
  • V.M. Bekhterev // Selected works (articles and presentations), M., 1954. - 527 p.


  • M.A. Akimenko - The V.M. Bekhterev Psychoneurological Research Institute, Saint Petersburg, Russia