Resilience, Reminders, and Resonance in the Lives of These Psychiatrists

Over the past year, we’ve lost some amazing psychiatrists who can teach us a lot about resilience.

IN MEMORIAM

It seems as I age that the deaths of other psychiatrists become more personal. Although when one dies is unpredictable, as one becomes an elder, it is obvious—unless denied—that death is ever closer. While death reminders might seem to be a hazard of being a eulogizer, it may actually be a blessing in helping to give more meaning to one’s own life and death. There is some research that intermittent thinking and discussing death helps prepare one psychologically for dying.

Formal processes for thinking about death and dying have been established for various religions, like the annual 10 Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur in Judaism. At such times, family ancestors are often recalled. Perhaps similarly, sometimes I have wondered about covering psychiatrist colleagues who have died well before I started to do these intermittent eulogies for Psychiatric Times™. This time around, I decided to include one because he came back into the psychiatric and public news, and a special day was dedicated to him just recently: May 2, in Philadelphia.

Moreover, in this group of eulogies, the past was evoked for me in that the first came from my very own medical school class. Hence, I decided to finish writing this group of eulogies on my 76th birthday, May 5th. Some of them are still catch-up from 2021, as I found out about them over time. For some reason, about half are from Philadelphia. Sources of information are the same as usual: public obituaries and personal knowledge.

Andrew Devereux Cook, MD: My Medical School Classmate

Andy was in my medical school class at Yale from 1967-1971. Not only that, he married his life partner, Jake Ellis, in 1968, the same year I married mine. He was the 12th generation doctor in his family, but here we part. I was the 1st.

He became a child psychiatrist and eventually became the Founding President of the Maine Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. After 20 years, he became a consulting psychiatrist in New Zealand, starting another organization, the Youth Day Program.

Outside of professional work, Andy liked working outdoors, and ran a farm for 12 years.

About a decade before his death, he was diagnosed with Parkinson disease. Before his death, he was recognized in 2021 by the Maine Medical Association for 50 years of service. He died on September 29, 2021 at the age of 75, soon after our 50th year class virtual reunion.

Amy C. Brodkey, MD: The Women’s Mental Health Advocate

Dr Brodkey died on November 22nd at the age of 72. For over 40 years, she focused on improving women’s mental health services in Philadelphia and around the country. Besides the oppression of women, she was an activist in many social justice issues, including the Vietnam War.

Overcoming Type 1 childhood diabetes, she used her skills as a high school debate state champion to pass on her knowledge to students at Drexel University of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Her professional legacy will linger in these students and women’s mental health.

Sheila Hafter Gray, MD: Bringing Psychodynamics to the Military

Dr Gray died on December 21, 2021 at the age of 91. She was active in Senior Psychiatrists.

Earlier, she became a President of the American Academy of Psychodynamic Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, and was able to bring those interests and knowledge to the armed forces. She became a Civilian Supervisor in the beginning of the Vietnam War. She later became a full-time professor at the Medical School of the Uniformed Services University.

She advocated for the retention of civilian confidentiality of psychotherapy in the military. Understanding that privacy in the military is generally at the discretion of the command, applying that to psychotherapy would inhibit getting such treatment. Since psychotherapy contributed to military readiness by often enhancing functioning, she convincingly advocated for an exemption to the usual privacy policy for psychotherapy.

Henri Parens, MD: The Father of Parent Education

Dr Parens—a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author—died on February 19th at the age of 93.

From his horrific traumatic experience as a child during the Holocaust, he became an international expert on the “malignant prejudice” of hatred and genocide. Using his own childhood experiences, he went on to dedicate his life to helping children suffering from psychological trauma.

He was called “the father of parental education.” To emphasize starting early, he directed the infant psychiatry section at the Drexel College of Medicine. Out of his scholarly interests came a dozen books, about 300 articles, and numerous presentations to colleagues and the public. He said in 1988 that “the perfect parent is perfect 70 percent of the time”! The key was the ability to be empathetic. His 6-unit textbook, Parenting for Emotional Growth, was published in 1995 and used in many schools.

Not surprisingly, he deservingly received many awards.

Steven M. Southwick, MD: A Resilience Psychiatrist

Dr Southwick died recently on April 20, 2022 after a long and painful illness. Both his age and work at my alma mater, Yale University School of Medicine, also resonated with me.

Inspired by the writings of the concentration camp survivor psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, he was drawn to the resilience that can develop after traumatization. All his expertise culminated in the seminal book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Best Challenges, putting together neurobiology, genetics, development, psychology, exercise, and spirituality. That knowledge was applied in society from the 9/11 tragedy to the traumatic aspects of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

John Fryer, MD: Aka, Henry Anonymous, MD

We are approaching our annual meeting of the American Psychiatry Association at the end of this month. Just about 50 years ago, something extraordinary happened at one of them. A disguised figure began to speak at a session and said: “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” He identified himself as Henry Anonymous, MD, and then left the scene. About 2 years later, homosexuality was removed from the psychiatric DSM in 1974.

Due to concern for his career, he did not tell anyone for many years about his appearance. He did have career setbacks anyways, though eventually he got tenure at Temple University, specializing in aspects of death and dying in terms of bereavement and being a pioneer in the hospice movement. He died in 2003 at the age of 65 as John Fryer, MD. Fifty years later, he was celebrated for his courage and success in a ceremonial event in Philadelphia.

Though he was a major influence on homosexuality being removed from DSM in 1974, it really was not removed completely. When DSM-II was revised at that time, homosexuality was replaced by a new code, “distressed by their homosexuality.” In DSM-III, published in 1980, “ego-dystonic homosexuality” became a diagnostic category, to be removed in DSM-III-R in 1987, leaving “sexual disorder not otherwise specified” until 2013, when finally there was not any diagnostic category applying to sexual orientation in DSM-5.

However, we may need another John Fryer in terms of transgender and gender identity disorder. In DSM-5, we can see a parallel process developing in terms of transgender and gender identity disorders. They have been reframed as Gender Dysphoria, sort of akin to ego-dystonic homosexuality, that one is distressed by their gender.

Epilogue

It strikes me that all these eulogies connect to resilience, professionally and/or personally. Probably that is a reflection of our field’s growing interest in trauma, and how resilience can be an antidote of sorts. Moreover, it is important to start building resilience when young. This quote from Dr Southwick will be relevant to the public, patients, and ourselves:

“So to me, one of, if not the most important factors is to have a squad, to have a group of individuals who you really care about, who you know, at least one or two who you know will come to your aide no matter what, and for who to whom you will go as well.”

To my squad, you know who you are and I am forever grateful.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.