A Serendipitous Life 



BY DR. Karl Rickels, MD

A Serendipitous Life provides a first-hand account of the birth and development of the field of Psychopharmacology, nestled within the warm and personal memoirs of a former German POW who became a renowned American psychiatrist and the world’s leading expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders with medication.

After growing up in Berlin and serving in Rommel’s Africa Corps in World War II , Karl Rickels became a prisoner of war in May 1943. His experiences as a POW in America awakened his desire to return someday as an immigrant. After the war he completed medical school and post graduate training in Germany. When a psychiatric residency position opened at a mental hospital in Cherokee, Iowa, Dr. Rickels accepted the opportunity and emigrated to the United States.

As a psychiatric resident in the mid–1950s Dr. Rickels found himself at the forefront of an exciting new science, psychopharmacology, or the treatment of mental disorders with medication. Dr. Rickels was closely involved in the development of many anti-anxiety medications, including meprobamate, the benzodiazepines, and buspirone. This was followed by his discovery that antidepressant medications also had antianxiety properties, a finding which led to the current widespread use of antidepressants as anxiolytics. Dr. Rickels also pioneered the scientific study of the benzodiazepines and their risks.

Through his prolific research over the past 50 years Dr. Rickels has made so many contributions to the field that he is recognized the world over as the Dean of Psychopharmacology of anxiety disorders. As a testament to his extraordinary intellect, in his 80s, he remains an active researcher, clinician and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.