The Synchronicity in the Eulogies of 2 Psychiatrists

The loss of these 2 psychiatrists resonates.

IN MEMORIAM

Though difficult to define, synchronicity often refers to the simultaneous occurrence of events which seem significantly related but have no obvious casual connection. It can seem like the symbolic trail that leads to a new destination. Spiritually speaking, it can refer to being guided toward something beyond yourself. Carl Jung took synchronicity into the psychological realm of meaningful coincidences, though sometimes the meaning can seem elusive. Sometimes, it seems, you just know it when you experience it.

Personally, synchronicity has been of increasing fascination and importance to me in recent years. Ever since the Jewish High Holy Days during October 2019, it seems that synchronicity has happened to me more or less daily, even guiding what I write about.

Now synchronicity has come to the intermittent eulogies I write. Whether sacred or secular, it seems to me that these 2 eulogies are of divine psychiatric careers.

Jan Fawcett, MD: Creative Synchronicity

Dr Fawcett died on May 9, 2022, the day after Mother’s Day, at the age of 88.

He received his MD at Yale Medical School in 1960, as I did in 1971, both of us still during the period when there were no tests during medical school there. Besides that connection in our informal relationship, we ended up with some overlapping research interests. During medical school, my required research project was about depression in medical inpatients and later published; later, Dr Fawcett found that severe combined depression and anxiety was a significant risk factor for suicide in psychiatric inpatients.

Dr Fawcett became well-known as a leader and innovator in the area of mood disorders. That expanded into the realm of expert court testimony about depression and suicide. One notable example was testifying against Jack Kevorkian, MD, and his medical assistance in dying, concluding that many of those patients had untreated, but treatable depression.

Dr Fawcett received many awards for his work on mood disorders, but also established an award for residents when he was Chair of Psychiatry at Rush Medical School in Chicago. The “Dr Fawcett Was Wrong Award” was given to those who found research contradicting something he had taught them.

What I liked best in his career was his position as the editor of Psychiatric Annals. I sometimes read the articles in a given issue, but always read his 1-page editorials. And this is where scholarly synchronicity comes in. Searching for an example to share in this eulogy, I quickly ran across the May 2009 special issue on, yes, synchronicity—a rarely covered topic in psychiatry, then and now. It was guest edited by Bernard Beitman. Articles included “Synchronicity, Weird Coincidences, and Psychotherapy,” “Synchronicity and Psychotherapy: Jung’s Concept and Its Use in Clinical Work,” and “Clinical Implications of Synchronicity and Related Phenomena.”1-3

Dr Fawcett’s Editorial was, as usual, innovative and titled “Creative Synchronicity in Treatment and in Other Human Relationships.”4 He extended the usual definition to include a creative intent to consciously act to reinforce a positive state in another individual, especially as a psychotherapeutic addition to the prescribing of medication.

When he was told one day that his malignant melanoma was free of metastases, he had an epiphany, left Rush and moved to Santa Fe “to watch sunsets” and write a science fiction novel titled Living Forever, based on his own illness and life changes. For sure, he at least lives on in the expert knowledge he conveyed, the charismatic inspiration he gave, and the grateful people he helped.

Robert Daly, MD: Synchronicity in a Mentor and Mentee

July 4th, our country’s Independence Day, always has special meaning, but seemingly more so this year in regard to psychiatrists. On that day, the mass shooting during a parade in Highland Park received national attention. I added a few reflective daily columns on it for Psychiatric Times™.

A few days later, I found out from our Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Ronald Pies, MD, that the psychiatrist Robert Daly, MD, also died on that day at the age of 89. As I reviewed his career in his obituary, it seemed full of humanism as well as a broad range of psychiatry. He became a Professor of Psychiatry and Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Department of Psychiatry in Syracuse, where he worked for 40 years. While there, he helped establish the Consortium for the Cultural Foundation of Medicine and the Institute for Ethics in Health Care, speaking on these subjects around the world. In his work-life balance, he spent time with his family, friends, sports, and Holy Cross Church.

Dr Pies communicated this to me about him:

“Bob Daly was one of my mentors during residency, and—along with Gene Kaplan—one of the foremost influences on my career. One comment from Bob that deeply affected me and confirmed my choice of psychiatry as a specialty: ‘With psychiatry, you can do biology in the morning and theology in the afternoon!’ I will sorely miss him.”

He felt a bit like Socrates to Dr Pies in his wisdom, principles, and brilliance, but likely friendlier. I can see why. I would just add to the quote that at dinner you can then discuss the spirituality in psychiatry and the psychiatry in spirituality.

The important relationship of Drs Daly and Pies continued over the years. Perhaps it reached it reached one of its zeniths in a joint article for Psychiatric Times™ on March 4, 2010, titled “Should Psychiatry and Neurology Merge as a Single Disciplines?”5 It was based on a Grand Rounds at Syracuse from August 27, 2009. In support of the resolution was Dr Pies; in opposition was Dr Daly. I would conclude that the real winner of this debate was their relationship and us readers. Certainly, Dr Daly’s legacy lives on in Dr Pies and so many others that he influenced and helped.

Epilogue

Whether you believe in the importance of synchronicity or not, the lives of both Drs Fawcett and Daly had significant meaning professionally and personally. And whether there was any divine intervention in their passing away at similar ages and similar times, they both remind us of the humanity and ethics necessary to supplement the benefits of hard science and to counter the inhumanity of mass shootings. For me, they exemplify the range of what psychiatry can—and should—cover, from neurology to cultures, and from the needs of the individual patient to the needs of society.

Their lives were a psychiatric blessing.

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 related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. Beitman BD. Synchronicity, weird coincidences, and psychotherapy. Psychiatr Ann. 2009;39(5):245-246.

2. Hopcke RH. Synchronicity and psychotherapy: Jung’s concept and its use in clinical work. Psychiatr Ann. 2009;39(5):287-293.

3. Nachman G. Clinical implications of synchronicity and related phenomena. Psychiatr Ann. 2009;39(5):297-308.

4. Fawcett J. Creating synchronicity in treatment and in other human relationships. 2009;39(5).

5. Pies RW, Daly R. Should psychiatry and neurology merge as a single disciplines? Psychiatric Times. 2010;27(3).