Lives of the fellows

Zäida Mary Hall

b.11 July 1925 d.17 March 2013
BM BCh Oxon(1948) DCH(1951) MRCP(1952) DM(1955) DPM(1967) MRCPsych(1971) FRCPsych FRCP(1984)

Zäida Mary Hall (née Megrah) was a consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Southampton. The first female to hold this appointment, she built up the pyschotherapy department, with her friend and colleague Pamela Ashurst, from its beginnings in a portakabin to become a renowned centre for innovation, research and training.

Born in London, she was the daughter of Maurice Henry Megrah, a one time secretary of the Institute of Bankers who became a QC and his wife, Jessie née Halstead. An only child, her unusual first name came from the Arabic word for fortunate. Educated at St Paul's Girl's School, she studied medicine at Somerville College, Oxford, doing an abbreviated two year course due to the Second World War. She then trained at St George's Hospital, where she was one of the first three female medical students and had to suffer the disdain of her male colleagues and the hostility of the nurses, who feared her presence meant competition for the doctor’s attention. Having written a doctoral thesis on the effects of vitamin B12 in pernicious anaemia which was later published, jointly with J N Chalmers, as ‘Treatment of pernicious anaemia with Vitamin B12 without known source of intrinsic factor’ (BMJ, 1954, 1, 1179-81), she decided to train to be a chest physician. She did house jobs at St George’s and then worked as a clinical assistant at the Brompton Hospital.

On moving to Winchester because of her husband’s job, she retrained in psychiatry because she perceived that there was a declining need for respiratory physicians. Managing to commute to the Maudsley to continue her training, she became a registrar at the Knowle Hospital, Fareham and worked almost full time while bringing up her four sons. In 1971 she was appointed consultant psychiatrist at Southampton University and the Royal South Hants Hospital (RSHH). Six years later she was also appointed consultant psychotherapist at the RSHH and continued in these appointments for the next 20 years. During this time she also worked at the Red Hatch Remand Centre for delinquent girls in Winchester, where she was often the first person to take seriously the girls’ experiences (which often consisted of physical or sexual abuse) and by listening carefully to them set them on the path to recovery. At the RSHH she eventually became one of their 'Three wise men'. Retiring in 1990, she continued to work at the university as an honorary research fellow and kept up her therapy sessions until the age of 80.

The change of specialty had been an excellent decision for her. She showed genuine empathy with her patients and was a pioneer in the treatment of young victims of abuse – a field that was, at that time, only just being recognised. Observing that the teenagers she treated were often from broken homes, she recognised that their mental health problems often stemmed from those of their parents. Her work involved innovative group therapy using a male co-therapist for victims of abuse, initially for women and later also for men. In her therapy she introduced many new techniques, such as using EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to treat post-traumatic stress. A patron of CISters (childhood incest survivors) network, she played a major role in raising awareness of the therapeutic needs for survivors of sexual abuse. She was often called upon to speak out against the so-called ‘false memory syndrome’ as she claimed that, in her experience, adults commonly suppressed traumatic memories from their childhood but did not invent them.

She published numerous papers on subjects such as group therapy, false memory, confidentiality and child sexual abuse. Anxious about the threats to patient confidentiality posed by the new technologies, she drew up a code of practice in psychiatry to safeguard patients. She contributed some chapters to Student health practice (Tunbridge Wells, Pitman medical, 1979) edited by Anne Wilkinson, and, with Pamela Ashurst, she wrote Understanding women in distress (London, Routledge, 1989), a book which was the first to publicise the long-term impact of child sexual abuse.

When she was a medical student in London, she joined the Bach Choir and sang with them for over 40 years. She also enjoyed going to the opera, foreign travel, and gardening.

Her life was enhanced by two long and happy marriages. In 1950 she married Ruthven Hall, an architect. His father was Edwin Stanley Hall, the architect who was a one time president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). When her husband became bursar of Winchester College, the family moved to Winchester and she enjoyed her connection with the school. They had four sons. Ruthven died in 1983 and, two years later, she married Sir Peter Ramsbotham, Britains’ former ambassador to Washington, who was by then a widower. He predeceased her in 2010. She died a short time after metastatic cholangiocarcinoma was diagnosed and was survived by her sons, Richard, David, Nigel and Peter and grandchildren, Christina, Natasha, Francesca, Emma and Benjamin.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 2994; Prabook; BJPsych Bull - all accessed 3 December 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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