About author Nathaniel (Neil) McConaghy

SO YOU SAY YOU’RE STRAIGHT: The one in five hidden homosexual heterosexuals  by the late Dr Neil McConaghy book proposal placed here on StraightGuise.com with permission by the author’s daughter, Dr. Finola McConaghy.

Contact Dr. Finola McConaghy at the address and phone below:


Dr. Finola McConaghy, Ph.D.
281 Cabbage Tree Rd.
Grose Vale NSW 2753
Phone 0427 427 477



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Intellectual delved into human mind

July 16, 2005 (SMH)


Nathaniel (Neil) McConaghy, Academic psychiatrist, 1927-2005


The death of Neil McConaghy reminds us of the intellectual and human qualities that inspire those working at the interface between academia and health services and who are striving to achieve the best outcomes for students and patients.


Applying rigorous scientific methods, McConaghy’s breadth and depth of knowledge, his integrity and his personal warmth, made him an admired figure among his colleagues, and an inspiration to the many students and trainees he taught and mentored during his long career.


Nathaniel (Neil) McConaghy was born in Brisbane. He attended Brisbane Boys’ College where he won a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Queensland. His medical studies exposed him to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, via the study of comparative anatomy.This provided an evolutionary perspective that underpinned his latter scientific work.


On graduation, McConaghy moved to Melbourne in 1951, where he worked at Royal Park Hospital, then headed by John Cade, and studied for a diploma of psychological medicine at the University of Melbourne. His exposure to Pavlovian concepts at the psychology department led him to conceptualise behaviour as underpinned by a physiological model, which synthesised biological and sociological factors. It also marked the beginning of his scientific collaboration with psychologists such as Syd Lovibond, who was then a colleague at Royal Park. Such cross-disciplinary efforts continued throughout his research career. In the mid to late 1950s, McConaghy worked in Canada and then trained at the Maudsley Hospital in London, before returning to Melbourne. He was appointed to the school of psychiatry at the University of NSW in 1964. Here he joined Leslie Kiloh, John Cawte and Gavin Andrews as founders of this department, based at Prince Henry Hospital. McConaghy was promoted to associate professor in 1970, and continued to teach and conduct research at the university until his retirement in 1992.


McConaghy played a major role in incorporating teaching about human behaviour in the medical curriculum at UNSW in the 1970s, convincing the faculty that the scientific study of behaviour was as relevant to medicine as an understanding of physiology or anatomy. In 1990, he was awarded the prestigious doctorate of science by the university. The citation highlighted his outstanding efforts to understand intentionality in human behaviour, and noted his success in integrating findings from neurophysiology, experimental psychology and psychiatry. He maintained his connections with the university following retirement, and was still a visiting professor and postgraduate student supervisor.


McConaghy’s scientific interests were often far in advance of the prevailing zeitgeist. As an example of this quality, in 1960 he began an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry as follows: “Surprisingly little interest has been taken in recent decades by either psychiatrists or psychologists in the ways in which people think.”


He went on to outline a new conceptualisation of the disordered thinking that characterised people experiencing a schizophrenic psychosis. Several studies found that this type of thinking was also present in the general population, especially among those with high levels of creativity, such as successful visual artists. This dimensional construct, which he termed allusive thinking, has become part of mainstream thinking about schizophrenia and psychosis. McConaghy’s seminal ideas spawned a range of laboratory-based studies that aimed to identify the neurophysiological bases of attention in patients with schizophrenia and normal volunteers.


He also had a longstanding interest in the dimensional nature of sexuality, and published widely on the incidence of bisexuality and opposite-sex linked behaviours in the general population.


McConaghy examined common assumptions about sexual behaviour, and where possible freed beliefs from the effect of established political positions. Many gays and lesbians respected his work in the scientific study of sexuality, despite his decision in the 1960s to offer treatment to those who wished to suppress their desires to engage in homosexual activities.


The considerable controversy aroused by this stance coloured perceptions long after his research focus had shifted, and social changes had rendered such studies irrelevant. In the early 1970s, he attempted to present some of his work in this area at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in San Francisco, sparking a near-riot that was reported in Time magazine. Undaunted, McConaghy remained a fearless champion of the application of scientific methods to the study of human sexuality, and his 1993 book, Sexual Behaviour, Problems, and Management is widely recognised as a major contribution to this field. As a clinician, McConaghy was a pioneer in the field of behaviour therapy, and developed new behavioural treatments for impulse control disorders such as pathological gambling. He also worked with convicted sex offenders to determine whether such behavioural techniques could assist them to control the urge to re-offend.


This work was conducted in the behaviour therapy research unit at Prince of Wales Hospital, where McConaghy worked as a clinician from 1976 until his retirement in 1992. Many who worked with him there remember with fondness the camaraderie that McConaghy engendered among members of his treatment team, while his clinical expertise was an inspiration to the medical students and trainee psychiatrists he taught.


Indeed, at his festschrift in 1992, Noel Wilton, then director of mental health for the NSW Health Department, said: “His clinical abilities and skills have conveyed so much to many who have come under his influence [and] then there is his continuing support and concern for the development of those who eagerly worked with him.”


McConaghy continued to work in private practice following his retirement and served for many years with the Mental Health Review Tribunal, and as inaugural chairman of the scientific advisory committee of the Neuroscience Institute of Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders. He continued to write for academic journals until a few weeks before his death.


McConaghy’s intellectual curiosity was not limited to scientific and academic domains, but extended across the breadth of human accomplishment; art, music, architecture, literature and history were all areas of which he had prodigious knowledge. He had read widely, travelled extensively, and enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for these interests with family, friends and colleagues throughout his life.


He inspired many to pursue truth and beauty through his example. He was always ready with a quote from Euripides or Shakespeare, and was an advocate of the insights to be gained from great writers, such as Jane Austen and Marcel Proust.


To balance these cerebral pursuits, McConaghy had a longstanding interest in tennis, both as player and spectator. After tennis, and indeed on most occasions, he enjoyed joining family and friends in a glass of two of wine from his extensive cellar.


At his memorial service, all who spoke paid tribute to McConaghy for his friendship and wise counsel, his intellect and personal warmth. Stanley Catts, an ex-student and now a professor of psychiatry at the University of Queensland, observed: “Neil’s greatest gift was his ability to see in others more than they could see in themselves.”


Fittingly, given McConaghy’s love of Shakespeare, the 87th sonnet was read as a farewell tribute.


He is survived by his wife, Helen Molony, daughters Finola and Suzi, granddaughter Natasha and his sister, Natalie.


Philip Ward, Finola McConaghy, Anna Lee

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