Lives of the fellows

Charles Anthony Storr

b.18 May 1920 d.17 March 2001
MB BChir Cantab(1944) MRCP(1946) DPM FRCP(1975) FRCPsych FRSL

Anthony Storr was a talented psychotherapist who, through writing and broadcasts, increased public understanding of psychiatry. He published 12 books and the quality of his writing was recognised by election to the fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature. He loved music and had a piano lesson on the day on which he died at the age of 80.

After qualifying in medicine at Cambridge and house jobs at the Westminster, Storr soon obtained the MRCP. Instead of following a career as a physician, he decided to train in psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital. He then combined part time consultant appointments in London with practice as a psychotherapist, and in 1960 published his first book. The integrity of personality (London, Heineman Medical, 1960) was acclaimed for its clarity and humanity, and its success led to invitations to appear on radio and television. Storr's urbane manner, liberal views, evident compassion and refreshing common sense soon made him a sought after and influential spokesman for psychiatry. In these public appearances and through his writing he did much to increase public understanding and reduce prejudice. He carried out these activities while continuing with a busy medical practice.

Anthony Storr's success as teacher, writer, broadcaster, and as a psychotherapist stemmed from his ability to extract the essentials from a complex theory or a difficult problem and to reflect about these in clear, straightforward terms. He spoke modestly but with authority derived from meticulous scholarship and unfailing common sense. He was a staunch opponent of illiberal opinions, and he championed the rights of the disadvantaged. In 1960 he wrote an article in which he criticized the use in wartime of psychiatric knowledge in the interrogation of prisoners. As a result he was asked to join a government committee set up to recommend rules that would outlaw the use of psychological methods of torture for prisoners. Later his concerns with human rights led to his appointment to the Parole Board.

During his years of practice as a psychotherapist, Anthony Storr remained above all a good physician, and he never underestimated the value of scientific approaches to psychiatry. For his enquiries, however, he chose aspects of psychiatry and the human mind that cannot yet be understood through scientific study. In the 1960s he produced books concerned with sexual deviation, aggression and creativity. In the last of these he considered man's special ability to use symbols and fantasy, and discussed how an understanding of these processes contributes to healing, how they form the basis of creativity and inventiveness, and are expressed in their purest form in art and music.

Storr's love of music began in childhood. His father was a canon of Westminster Abbey so that Anthony was brought up in Dean's Yard. As a child he was introduced to the fine choral music of the Abbey, while at home he played the works of Handel and other great composers on his gramophone. Later, during his years at Winchester he made music himself, singing in the school choir and learning the viola and piano. In later years, music was to become an unfailing source of pleasure, as well as a solace at the increasingly frequent times when he was laid low by severe attacks of asthma. He became fascinated by the effects of music on the emotions and by its ability, as he described it 'to create order in the mind'. Later, during his retirement he explored these problems in Music and the mind (London, Harper Collins, 1992), a book which demonstrated the breadth of his scholarship and his knowledge and appreciation of music. One reviewer described the book as 'beautifully written, humane, intelligent and thoughtful', a judgement that could be applied to all Storr's writing.

In 1974, Storr moved to Oxford as a consultant and teacher of psychotherapy, at first associated with Wadham College and later with Green College. Although Storr was an authority on Jung's thought and published two important books on the subject, he was one of the first to teach that the shared features of the various psychotherapies are more important than the differences. He set out this teaching in The art of psychotherapy (London, Secker & Warburg, Heineman Medical,1979) in which he emphasised the value of skills which form the basis of all good patient care, such as calm unhurried listening as a way of helping people solve or come to terms with their problems. He was interested in the ways in which people find techniques of their own for warding off depression and other unpleasant emotions. In pursuing this interest he studied Winston Churchill's accounts of his struggle with his 'black dog' - the recurrent periods of low mood which he experienced in middle life - and published a book about his findings. Storr incorporated these and related observations about psychological resilience into his practice and teaching of psychotherapy and in this way anticipated the use of so-called coping strategies in cognitive-behaviour therapy.

Ill health led Anthony Storr to retire early from clinical practice. However, retirement was to be the start of a new productive period as a writer. He produced three important books, including the volume on music, and continued to review and broadcast. In one of these books, Solitude: a return to the self (London, Deutsch, 1988) he argued that not only relationships but also periods of solitude and reflection are important for personal development. In Feet of clay: a study of gurus (London, Harper Collins, 1996) he examined what it might be that enables some people to exert powerful, irrational and sometimes destructive influences as leaders of religious and other cults - Freud and Jung were among his examples.

Anthony Storr celebrated his 80th birthday with a happy family party held in Venice. During retirement he had resumed the piano lessons which he had to give up during his busy medical career, and he worked with his teacher on a difficult Bach fugue on the morning of his last day. In the evening he was an after-dinner speaker at Wadham College. He collapsed during the speech and died soon afterwards.

Michael Gelder

[TheTimes 20 March 2001; The Daily Telegraph 21 March 2001; The Independent 23 March 2001; The Guardian 20 March 2001]

(Volume XI, page 557)

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