Lives of the fellows

Samuel Isaac Cohen

b.22 November 1925 d.9 September 2004
BSc Wales(1946) MB BCh(1948) MB BS Lond(1949) MD(1953) MRCP(1954) DPM(1958) FRCP(1970) FRCPsych(1971)

Samuel Isaac Cohen, known as ‘Sam’, was professor of psychiatry at the London Hospital, and one of the pioneers of liaison psychiatry, which deals with the interaction between psychiatric and bodily disorders. He was born in Cardiff, the son of Gershon Cohen, a company director, and Ada née Samuel, the daughter of a scholar and a small trader. He was educated at Cardiff High School and then studied medicine at Cardiff, qualifying in 1948.

He held house officer posts on the medical and surgical units at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, and then at Hammersmith Hospital, London. Whilst a medical student, he had contracted tuberculosis, and in 1950 experienced a reoccurrence. He was hospitalised at Frimley Hospital and treated with therapeutic pneumothorax. In 1952, he became a registrar and then a lecturer in medicine on the medical unit, Cardiff Royal Infirmary. In 1956, he began his career in psychiatry, training at the Maudsley Hospital and gaining his diploma in psychological medicine in 1958.

In 1963, he was appointed as a consultant psychiatrist at the London Hospital and, in 1969, to the London Jewish Hospital. From 1960, he also undertook all the psychiatric consultations at the Brompton Hospital. In 1984 he became professor of psychiatry at the London Hospital, until he retired in 1990.

He developed a particular interest in psychosomatic disorders and in the pathophysiology underlying somatic symptoms. He helped pioneer what became known as ‘liaison psychiatry’, the interface between physical and psychological health, that area of psychiatry which provides treatment to patients in general hospitals. He persuaded 10 surgeons and physicians at the London Hospital to release two beds each, opening up Rachel ward as a psychiatric unit within the general teaching hospital environment. He encouraged psychotherapeutic as well as physical treatments, and Rachel ward was in many ways run as a therapeutic community.

He wrote papers on a full range of psychiatric topics, including psychosomatic disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.

In 1968, he was invited to Israel and spent a year developing Ezrath Nashim, a psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem. The hospital, later renamed the Herzog Hospital, has become an internationally renowned centre for psychiatric research. After he retired, he continued to work as a visiting professor in Australia and New Zealand, teaching and seeing patients for a few months each year until 1998.

Outside medicine, he was interested in Jewish culture and scholarship, publishing papers on The Book of Psalms and their structure. He was the governor of a local school and was interested in music. He enjoyed hill walking in Scotland and travelled widely.

In 1955 he married Vivienne née Wolfson, a medical student and the daughter of Samuel W Wolfson, a company director. Vivienne went on to become a consultant psychotherapist and a senior lecturer at St Bartholomew’s. Sam and Vivienne were generous philanthropists. For a number of years Sam was a member of the council of Jews’ College, to which he and his wife were generous benefactors. He had lymphatic leukaemia for some years and had suffered recurrent infections following chemotherapy. His wife survived him, as did their son and daughter, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. A memorial lecture has been established in his name by the Jewish Medical Association UK.

RCP editor

[The Times 26 November 2004; 1 December 2004; The Guardian 2 December 2004; Brit.med.J.,2005 330 98; Psychiatric Bulletin (2005) 29: 157; Jewish Medical Association UK http://jewishmedicalassociationuk.org/previous-events/sam-cohen-memorial-lectures – accessed 7 March 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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