Lives of the fellows

Erwin Stengel

b.25 March 1902 d.2 June 1973
MD Vienna(1926) LRCPE LRCSE LRCPSG(1944) MRCP(1951) FRCP(1959) Hon MD Sheff Hon FRCPsych

Erwin Stengel was born in Vienna, the son of a Rabbinical scholar, Abraham Markus Stengel, a school-teacher, and of Franziska Popper, the daughter of Elias Popper, a merchant. He studied medicine in Vienna at a time when the University was alive with new ideas. He became Dozent at a young age and held appointments in the Neurological Institute and in the departments of neurology and psychiatry at the University. He worked with Wagner Jauregg and Paul Schilder, but undoubtedly Freud was his most influential mentor.

Stengel struggled throughout his life to combine clinical medicine, neurology and psychoanalysis. In 1938, he was helped by his wife to escape from Vienna, and this they did at the International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Paris. They had no money and were given £200 by the Psychoanalytical Association (which Stengel insisted was a loan). On arrival in England he studied medicine at Bristol while his wife worked as a nurse. He obtained the Scottish triple qualification in 1944. For three years he worked as a senior psychiatrist at Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries, and was then appointed Director of Clinical Research at Graylingwell Hospital, Chichester, the beginning of what was to become later the MRC Clinical Psychiatry Research Unit. In 1949, he was appointed Reader at the Institute of Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant to the Bethlem-Maudsley Hospital, and in 1956, Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Sheffield. He retired in 1967.

Stengel held many important posts in this country. He was Chairman of the medical section of the British Psychological Society in 1956; President of the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1957 and, finally, President of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association in 1966. In this post he did much to bring about the translation of the Association into the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Stengel came to England with a unique knowledge of European neurology and psychiatry at its best, as well as an intimate understanding of psychoanalysis. But he had to learn our language. This he did very successfully, but he was always more at a loss in close academic argument than in his writings. He had a considerable influence on British psychiatry because his unique knowledge and experience and his ‘middle of the road’ approach between neuropsychiatry and psychoanalysis, was appreciated by many. He did important work on suicide and ‘attempted’ suicide, but his interests were far-ranging. He translated Freud’s work on aphasia; he published numerous works in German, particularly with Paul Schilder, and even more numerous papers in English, particularly on attempted suicide, on asymbolia for pain, on the relation between schizophrenia and obsessional symptoms, and he produced for WHO a critical review on the Classification of Mental Disorders. He published three books, two on Suicide and Attempted Suicide and one on The Scope and Methods of Psychiatry.

He was a much-loved clinician, a man of profound scholarship and a much respected teacher. He had great zeal for psychiatry and its rightful place in the medical curriculum and he did much to influence this at Sheffield. His humanitarian attitudes were apparent in all he did. For six years he was President of the Samaritans, and after this he became President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

He married Anna Kohl in 1935. Her father, Vincent Kohl, was a civil servant in Vienna. There were no children of the marriage.

Sir Denis Hill

[, 1973, 2, 668;Lancet, 1973, 1, 1396, 1459, 1524; Times, 5 & 9 June 1973]

(Volume VI, page 415)

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