Lives of the fellows

Edward Stewart Chesser

b.28 February 1932 d.24 May 2002
BChir Cantab(1957) MA MB(1958) MRCP(1961) DPM(1965) MRCPsych(1973) FRCPsych(1980) FRCP(1987)

Edward Chesser was a distinguished psychiatrist who pioneered behaviour therapy in the health service. He was born in London, the son of the renowned psychiatrist and author Eustace Chesser, and his wife, Rose.

Edward was educated at Dragon School, Oxford, and Westminster School, London. He went on to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and University College Hospital Medical School where he completed his medical training.

After house positions at New End and St James Hospitals he began to focus on psychiatry as a registrar and later as senior registrar at the Maudsley Hospital. As a qualified psychiatrist he became a Nuffield fellow and honorary lecturer at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London in 1966. There, from 1972, he held the position as a senior lecturer in psychiatry and honorary consultant.

Subsequently Ted dedicated his life's work to developing behaviour therapy in the psychiatric setting, working predominantly with severe hospitalised patients. He was originally inspired by H J Eysenck's work on behaviour therapy, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, London.

In 1962 Victor Meyer, the eminent behaviour therapist, had set up a new behavioural psychotherapy unit in the department of psychiatry at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School which was dedicated to the research and treatment of complex psychiatric disorders, a group of patients which at the time were considered as untreatable by any means of psychotherapy. When Ted Chesser joined the department he became co-director and held medical responsibility for his unit. He was particularly interested in exploring the combination of traditional drug based treatments with the new behaviour therapy approach, as was being developed together with Victor Meyer. This collaboration proved to be unique and presented rare opportunities as both complemented each other in many creative and innovative ways. Their early pioneering work was summarised in an outstanding textbook, published in 1970, which is still considered a classic benchmark text to this day.

Amongst many great innovations, one of their greatest achievements was the development of exposure and response prevention treatment for obsessive compulsive disorders. The first ever controlled research on this method was carried out on Cambridge ward at St Luke's Woodside Hospital in north London.

The other great accomplishment by Ted Chesser (also with Vic Meyer) was the organising of the first ever training scheme in behaviour therapy in the United Kingdom. This was established as a formal training course in 1970 and as a higher degree diploma course in 1979. During these years, the unit at the Middlesex Hospital became an important international centre where scholars from around the world would seek training and participate in research. It's reputation is alive and well to this day.

Ted published many important papers based on his original research and was an invited speaker at international conferences. Above all, his clinical and teaching contributions were remarkable. He is now rightly considered as a pioneer of the cognitive behavioural psychotherapies.

His teaching style merits further comment as he possessed a great sense for detail and diligence in the analysis of problems and planning of treatment. There was an expectation of applying the highest possible scientific standards to clinical problems. Typically, his students would often despair of his teaching, finding him 'nitpicking' and 'obsessional'. With hindsight, his style was a great benefit in training, enabling the successful trainee to think independently and to approach clinical problems in a genuinely clinical-scientific manner. Nonetheless, he was very supportive and was always available for students and staff, frequently missing his meals in the process!

His extraordinary knowledge, wisdom and great sense of humour will be sorely missed.

Ted's last years were strongly affected by ill health which as far as possible he bravely ignored. He finally died of a heart condition. He was married to Angela Margaret Fleming. They had two sons and one daughter.

Michael H Bruch


(Volume XI, page 106)

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