When he first entered psychoanalysis as a patient, this 22-year-old Marshall scholar envisaged his future as that of a melancholic, isolated writer. Instead, he uncovered a repressed desire to become a psychiatrist. Through the years, Peter Kramer, M.D., has interwoven the two careers of writer and clinical psychiatrist and followed a life path that he has described as "up from melancholy."
In 1970, Kramer had graduated from Harvard College with high honors in history and literature and was attending University College in London on a postgraduate scholarship, yet he was uneasy. "I was someone who was very interested in literature and philosophy," Kramer told Psychiatric Times. But that was during the Vietnam War years, and many young Americans felt the imperative toward relevance, service and practical good.
Partly because of his need to feel relevant and partly because of his lack of pleasure in his own academic successes, he entered psychoanalysis at Hampstead Clinic, the Freudian epicenter in Great Britain. "In the course of being an analytic patient, I came to the realization that I had in some ways always wanted to be a doctor but had set that goal aside. In particular, I wanted to be a psychoanalyst," Kramer added. In Kramer's newest book, Against Depression (New York: Viking, 2005), he writes of those life-transforming years:
When I announced that I wanted to enter medical school and become a psychiatrist, my analyst did not discourage me … My analyst wanted me to understand that the wish, from childhood, to protect my relatives--the need to ward off depression and to conquer disease--was shaping my career choice … I do not deny that my attitudes toward mood disorder have deep roots.
Born in New York City just after World War II, Kramer grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. He wrote in Against Depression:
All my relatives were German Jews. Those few who had managed to get out--they included my parents, my grandparents and one great-grandmother--had done so at the last possible moment. Most other family members were killed or died of medical neglect.
Disease also marked the family. In the first four years of Kramer's life, his father, a pharmacist, was hospitalized twice with tuberculosis.