Arthur Bindman was working toward a degree in engineering at Northeastern University when he enlisted in the Navy during World War II as a radar technician.
His ship was sent to Europe to help bring US troops home. After his stint was up, he transferred to Harvard College and switched from engineering to psychology.
“Things he observed during the war pushed him to really want to understand why people did the things they did,” said his son David of West Newton. “At Harvard, he became enamored with psychology and human behavior.”
Dr. Bindman, who formerly was chief of psychological services for the Boston region of the state Department of Mental Health, died June 29 in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 86 and in retirement divided his time between Lexington and Palm Beach, Fla.
During a long career as a psychologist, he was proudest of helping lead the effort to deinstitutionalize patients from state hospitals and help them reintegrate into society, his son said.
“During that era, patients would be put in these institutions and warehoused,” David said. “He got very involved with improving community mental health, with getting people out of institutions and into other places that would help them.”
While working for the state, Dr. Bindman toured Europe to see how other governments treated mental health patients and found they were “way ahead of us,” his son said.
“He was a really special guy, a real pioneer in connecting the concepts of mental health and public health,” said his son Andrew of San Francisco. “The key was thrown away when people were institutionalized, and he wanted to bring individuals out of that environment and into the community.”
After graduating from Harvard in 1948, Dr. Bindman went to Boston University, from which he graduated with a master’s in psychology in 1949, and a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1955. He also received a master’s in public health from Harvard in 1957.
While a graduate student, Dr. Bindman interned at Boston-area Veterans Affairs hospitals and worked with elementary school pupils at a child guidance clinic in Lowell.
At different points in his career, he served as president of the Massachusetts Psychological Association and chaired the state Board of Registration of Psychologists.
While working for the state, Dr. Bindman kept a part-time private practice on Beacon Street. After retiring in 1979 from the Department of Mental Health, he worked as a consultant and began seeing patients full-time. Writing for a Harvard class report in 1983, he said it was “a welcome change to return to my roots as a professional psychologist.”
In private practice, Dr. Bindman concentrated on marriage and family counseling, and also used psychological testing, including IQ and Rorschach tests, to help treat patients.
“There was a big movement going on in psychology at the time toward personality testing,” Andrew said. “He used a lot of those techniques in terms of diagnosing patients and in terms of trying to help them.”
Born in New York City, Dr. Bindman moved to Mattapan at 5.
He began dating Bernice Levenson after their parents arranged a meeting. They married in 1950 and settled in Belmont, where they raised their three sons and often vacationed in New Hampshire.
“I still find time for stamp collecting, photography, golf, ice skating, and electric trains,” Dr. Bindman wrote in the 15th anniversary report of his Harvard class, adding that “sons are wonderful excuses for trying all those childhood interests you never had as a child!”
While working for the state Department of Mental Health, Dr. Bindman received an award for public service from the Massachusetts Psychological Association.
“As a psychologist, I am leery about expressing a point of view regarding life in general; it may be too biased,” he wrote in 1968 for a Harvard class report. “Working with people and their problems suggests that childhood, adolescence, the college years, and the years of marriage are all difficult times, but I’m still optimistic about the future.”
Twenty years later, he wrote that while still optimistic, he was “troubled deeply by the problems I see every day in my practice as I evaluate young people who are lost, unable to understand themselves and their future goals.”
Although “experience tells me that some problems will never be solved unless there are major societal changes,” he added that he would “keep working and hoping for the best.”
Outside of work, Dr. Bindman took classes to learn to identify birds and mushrooms, his sons said, and he enjoyed reading and was enthusiastic about current events.
“As a son, it was a real gift and a joy to have a father who was so engaged, and who loved to just discuss everything,” Andrew said.
Dr. Bindman, who also loved sports, continued skiing and sailing into his 70s. He was a patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Palm Beach Opera, and his son said he was able to identify a symphony after hearing just a few bars of music.
A service has been held for Dr. Bindman, who in addition to his wife and two sons leaves another son, Carl of Andover, and seven grandchildren.
In 1998, having retired from private practice, he wrote for a Harvard class report that he felt fortunate to have been a psychologist before advances in pharmacology, combined with managed care, “resulted in a less-caring environment for helping people with problems.”
“Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I am holding out against the computer as a central focus of the lives of most of us,” he wrote. “I decided that I would rather spend my time enjoying the simpler things in life, such as enjoying natural beauty, listening to good music, reading a book, or puttering around with my house or hobbies.”