Alienist is an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist. Despite falling out of favor by the middle of the twentieth century, it received renewed attention when used in the title of Caleb Carr's novel The Alienist (1994), and in the 2018 television series of the same name based on the novel. Although currently not often used in common parlance, the term "alienist" is still employed in psychiatric hospitals to describe those mental health professionals who evaluate defendants to determine their competency to stand trial. However, in this context professionals are more often referred to as forensic psychologists.
The term appears in Harry Houdini's first feature silent film The Grim Game, written by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey, and adapted for the screen by Walters Woods. A Paramount-Artcraft Picture from 1919 with Houdini as "Harvey Hanford, star reporter for The Daily Call newspaper. Alienist was used to describe "Dr. Tyson, a famous alienist and Cameron's physician," played by Arthur Hoyt. Hanford is wrongfully jailed for murder and must escape to save his fiancée "Mary Wentworth".
Director: Irvin V Willat; Photographed by: J.O. Taylor; Art Director: Wilfred Buckland; Starring: Harry Houdini as "Harvey Hanford, D. Cameron's estranged nephew", Thomas Jefferson as "Dudley Cameron, childless eccentric millionaire miser", Ann Forrest as "Mary Wentworth, D. Cameron's ward and heiress"
In Agatha Christie's novel The A.B.C. Murders (1936), Dr. Thompson, "the famous alienist", is called to Scotland Yard to help Poirot and Inspector Japp find a murderer who mails cryptic letters to Poirot before each murder.
It is used in the Gladys Mitchell novel “Here Comes A Chopper” to describe the central character, Mrs Bradley and Doctor Beni Yusman of Santiago, at the inquest. They were both offering evidence in their professional capacity as psychiatrists.
Used throughout the book "The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science" (author) Douglas Starr of the various psychistrists and other mental healthcare providers mentioned throughout the book.
It was used in The Originals season episode "Red Door", where Mikaelson family patriarch Mikael calls Cami, a therapist, an alienist.
It was used in the Penny Dreadful episode "Possession", where Vanessa asks Dr. Frankenstein during an examination, "meaning you will soon bring in an alienist?", and in the episode "The Night Tennyson Died", Vanessa begins seeing Dr. Seward, played by Patti LuPone, who refers to her branch of science as "alienism".
It was used in the Sherlock episode "The Abominable Bride", where Sherlock compares Watson to a Viennese alienist.
In the series Quacks, colleagues refer to the asylum medical staff character William as the alienist.
"Two Alienists Report Alleged Budd Slayer Has Some Abnormalities. Two alienists reported today to Walter A. Ferris, District Attorney elect of Westchester County, that Albert Fish, 64 years old, held in the county jail for the murder of Grace Budd, is legally sane". The New York Times. New York City. December 27, 1934.