Harold Searles

(Biography written at time of nomination.)

Harold Searles, now living in retirement with his wife and former nurse Sylvia in Davis, California, is 87 years old.  He had loved California since his Army years there, and had kept his California license updated, although he has not practiced there during this past decade.  Born and raised in Hancock, New York, a bucolic little town nestled in the Catskill Mountains and on the banks of the Delaware River, Searles came very naturally to write his first monograph on The Nonhuman Environment: In Normal Development and in Schizophrenia.  However, family life was idealized but was filled with complicated and chronic anxieties and depression, as Searles describes in his dialogue with Robert Langs, Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Treatment.

Searles’s great contribution to the mental health field is his personal honesty – his openness to his responses to the other person, and his ability to articulate these responses.  In his writings and in his many demonstration interviews of patients (which he has said was his favorite clinical activity after leaving the Lodge), he set a very high standard for all of us.  The boundary between the pre-conscious and the conscious moves back, when we have the courage to face ourselves more fully.  When we hide behind a professional mask of warm-hearted dedication, aiming at being such good and empathic people, we diminish our access to our patients, and find one false self in pseudo-interaction with another person who then plays some part in an unreal drama: “…a healthy hopefulness needs to be distinguished clearly from an essentially manic repression of feelings of loss and despair.” (Searles, 1979, p. 483)  As Searles moves from clinical vignettes to theoretical explication, the reader often has the feeling, “I almost thought that, myself,” or, uncannily, “He knows me better than I know myself.”  Thus, Searles’s writings should be studied by each of us, aiming at developing our clinical skills and emotional capacities in general.  One’s countertransference responses gradually become one’s strongest therapeutic tools.  He says, after detailing the grinding isolation he experienced in years of work with a hebephrenic man, “To my enormous relief I realized that I could now be related to him without having either to kill him or fuck him.” (Searles, 1979, p. 431)  Like reading the works of Ferenczi and Winnicott, one senses his presence as a gifted supervisor of one’s ongoing clinical struggles; he is thus a perpetual vibrant supervisor and therapist.  A prolific writer, he gathered his many papers into books which have remained in continual print.  The topics include many aspects of psychoanalytically oriented work with patients suffering from schizophrenia, from manic-depressive illness and from the borderline condition.  While his books sold excellently, they do not turn up often in used book stores; their owners cherish them.  And when psychiatrists get together, recalling their residency training, they very often recall Searles’s “one-shot interviews” which so often revealed pivotal events in the interviewees lives, which their therapists had known nothing of, and which evoked volcanic emotional outpourings, which the therapists had thought were beyond the capabilities of their seemingly frozen and hopeless patients. Searles obtained his B.A. at Cornell University, in 1940, and his M.D. at Harvard Medical School in 1943.  He began his residency training at the New York Hospital and then served as a Captain in the Army’s medical corps, serving at the Washington DC Veterans Administration Mental Hygiene Clinic.  He began his psychoanalytic training while there, at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute.  His analyst was Ernest Hadley.  Searles became a training and supervising analyst there and served as President of its Society from 1969 to 1971.  He was on the medical staff of the world-famous Chestnut Lodge Hospital from 1952 until 1964, working closely with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.  His office was in the Frieda Fromm-Reichmann Cottage after her death in 1956.  Colleagues at the Lodge included Marvin Adland, Dexter Bullard, Sr., Donald Burnham, John Cameron, Beatriz Foster, John Fort, Robert Gibson, John Kafka, Ping-Nie Pao, Alberta Szalita, Otto Will and many others, all sharing their ideas, friendships and competitiveness.  Searles served as a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and contributed significantly to the residency training program at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland, and the Columbia University residency program in New York City.  Additionally, he was a consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health, working on the project studying the Genain quadruplets.

In each issue of the ISPS-US Newsletter, edited by Brian Koehler, PhD, this quotation from Searles is in the banner: “Innate among man’s most powerful strivings toward his fellow men…is an essentially psychotherapeutic striving.” (Searles, 1979, p. 459)  “More and more during the past several years, I have come at last to see something of how frequently the analyst has cause to feel gratitude toward the patient.” (Searles, 1979, p. 437)

Ann-Louise S. Silver, M.D.


Langs, R. and Searles, H. (1980) Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Treatment: A Clinical Dialogue.  Jason Aronson.  New York and London.
Searles, H. (1960) The Nonhuman Environment: In Normal Development and in Schizophrenia. International Universities Press. New York.
——-. (1965) Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects. International Universities Press. New York.
——-. (1979) Countertransference and Related Subjects: Selected Papers. International Universities Press. New York.
——-. (1986) My Work with Borderline Patients. Jason Aronson, Northvale, NJ and London.