Lives of the fellows

Elizabeth Herman Zetzel

b.17 March 1907 d.22 November 1970
BA Smith(1928) MB BS Lond(1937) DPM(1939) MD(1941) MRCP(1941) Hon DSc Smith(1968) FRCP(1969)

Elizabeth Rosenberg was born in New York City. Her father was a distinguished lawyer who devoted much effort to philanthropic causes; he served on the American Relief Administration in 1921 and was Chairman of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

After obtaining an honours degree in economics she came to England and began postgraduate study at the London School of Economics. She also embarked on a psychoanalysis under Ernest Jones, and entered as a medical student at the Royal Free Hospital. She qualified in due course, and after various house appointments came to the Maudsley Hospital in 1939 to obtain a training in psychiatry. From the outbreak of war she worked at the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital, which was a psychiatric centre drawing its staff from the Maudsley Hospital. From 1943 until 1946 she was in the army as a Specialist in Psychiatry; she obtained the rank of major.

In 1946 she came back on the staff of the Maudsley, a psychotherapist in the Outpatient Department. She returned to America in 1949 and was appointed psychiatrist to the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1965 she became associate clinical professor in the Harvard Medical School.

Elizabeth’s primary interest throughout her professional life was in psychoanalysis, both in its theoretical and its technical aspects. She rapidly attained an outstanding position in this field: besides her teaching appointment in the Harvard Medical School, she was Secretary and then Vice-president of the International Psychiatric Association. Her writings on psychoanalysis were characterised by good sense, clarity and a forthright balanced approach. Her major papers were collected and published under the title The Capacity for Emotional Growth shortly before her death. In the preface to the book she wrote "although two thirds of my professional life has been spent in the United States, my roots will always remain in London, where I received both my analytic and psychiatric training".

Energetic, impatient, and quick to grasp the essentials of a problem, she' accomplished more than most people, untangling the psychopathology of neurosis, sitting on committees, evaluating patients who applied to the Psychoanalytic Clinic for treatment, and selecting patients for supervised analysis by candidates in training. She liked to recall the changes of outlook which came about as a result of dual experience in psychoanalysis and psychiatry; she called it macroscopic and based it on consideration of the role of affect-tolerance in determining the predisposition to certain types of psychological disorders. Whereas she had at first thought that psychoanalytic theory provided an adequate tool for the diagnosis and evaluation of all psychiatric patients, she gradually corrected this one-sided view. When she returned to Boston in 1949 the wave of enthusiasm for psychoanalysis was in "spate" in extreme forms, she wrote, "and particularly among those who had had no psychoanalytic training or experience I met once more the naïve conviction that psychiatry and psychoanalysis were not to be distinguished … such uncritical belief in the total applicability of psychoanalysis is only equalled by its opposite - total rejection".

In 1944 she married Dr. Eric Guttmann, a distinguished psychiatrist who had left Germany when the Nazis came to power. There was one son of the marriage, which was terminated by Guttmann’s untimely death in 1948. In 1949 she married Dr. Louis Zetzel, a gastroenterologist and clinical professor of medicine at Harvard.

Sir Aubrey Lewis

[Brit.med.J., 1970, 4, 690; Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 1972, 52, 229-231; Times, 25 Nov 1970]

(Volume VI, page 489)

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