Theodore Lidz


(Biography written at time of nomination.)

Theodore Lidz, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Yale, lived to be 90 years old, dying on February 16, 2001.  He lives on through his book, The Person, His and Her Development Throughout the Life Cycle which probably can be found on the bookshelves of essentially all mental health professionals who trained during the decade after its publication in 1976; it is still in print.  He dedicated his career to understanding the interpersonal causes of schizophrenia, focusing on family, community and cultural factors, and the details of the person’s life history.  He was convinced of the continuity between health and psychosis.

Ted Lidz was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island.  He received his B.A. and M.D. from Columbia University.  He completed two years of medical internship at the Yale-New Haven Hospital and then became an assistant in Neurology at National Hospital, Queen’s Square in London.  His psychiatric residency, at the Johns Hopkins Henry Phipps Clinic, was under the leadership of Adolf Meyer.  There, he met his wife, Dr Ruth Maria Wilmanns, who had fled Germany in 1934 and arrived at Hopkins in 1937.  They married in 1939.  She died in 1995.

Lidz enlisted in the Army in January, 1942 and served in New Zealand, Fiji and Burma.  His Fiji tour left him caring for hundreds of psychiatric casualties from Guadalcanal, he the only psychiatrist.  Years later, he and Ruth returned there to study the culture, and the book, Oedipus in the Stone age: A Psychoanalytic Study of Masculinzation in Papua New Guinea, grew from their studies.

On his return to Hopkins in 1946, he served as the psychiatric liaison clinician and began research on psychosomatic conditions.  He and Ruth trained in psychoanalysis in the Washington-Baltimore Psychoanalytic Institute, learning from Harry Stack Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.  They studied the psychiatric difficulties of parents of children hospitalized with schizophrenia, and this launched Lidz’s later extensive studies. The Lidzes moved to Yale in 1951 when Ted became professor and chief of clinical services.  Along with Stephen Fleck and others, he launched a long-term study comparing 17 schizophrenic patients and their families with 17 non-schizophrenic hospitalized patients and their families.  The book he co-authored with Stephen Fleck and Alice Cornelison, Schizophrenia and the Family, 1965, International Universities Press.  He was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a great honor and opportunity.

Lidz was a lifelong principal fighter against biological reductionism and the view that schizophrenia is incurable, and for the benefits of psychotherapy.  He formally retired in 1978, but continued treating patients.  He yearned to write one more book, refuting biological reductionism.

His fierce loyalty is reflected in a telling exchange of letters with Gore Vidal in the New York Review of Books published on June 13, 1985, “Caring for the Bird.”

To the Editors:

“I was not enlightened by Gore Vidal’s review of the two books about Tennessee Williams [NYR, June 13], and found the review distasteful, if not repugnant.  However, the question of what is suitable for publication is a matter for the editors of the Review. I write because of what he has to say about Dr. Lawrence Kubie.  Dr. Kubie is dead and cannot defend himself and he was a friend and colleague of mine.

I do not know what transpired in Dr. Kubie’s therapeutic work with Tennessee Williams as Dr. Kubie kept such matters to himself. However, Dr. Kubie was a leading psychoanalyst and psychoanalysts do not order patients to do anything and it seems highly doubtful to me that Dr. Kubie “ordered him to give up both writing and sex so that he could be transformed into a good team player.” Also in the light of Tennessee Williams’s dismal last years, why does Vidal write, “happily the Bird’s anarchy triumphed over the analyst.” Throughout his article Vidal quotes a number of instances in which Williams distorted or altered the truth and certainly there is ample reason not to accept Williams’s version of what went on in his analysis.

Dr. Kubie did not take down his shingle and retire from shrinkage. When he left his practice in New York, he did so to accept the position as Director of Psychotherapy at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland, a very important position in one of the country’s major psychotherapeutic institutions.

I did not agree and still do not agree with Dr. Kubie’s concepts about creativity, but I find Vidal’s snide comments about a man who devoted his life to the care of patients and the promotion of mental health highly offensive.”  Theodore Lidz, M.D.; Yale University; New Haven, Connecticut.

Gore Vidal emeritus replies:  “I am saddened that Dr. Lidz was not “enlightened” by my review, but not all darkness is penetrable, particularly that generated by, if I may say so, his own peculiar calling. Perhaps “ordered” was too strong a verb. Certainly Dr. Kubie gently hinted. … Is that better? God knows Tennessee dramatized his own life; and he certainly got things wrong, but he was never a liar. As for Dr. Kubie, I draw the readers of this review to his appearance, under the name Dr. Sanford Kubie, in a forthcoming novel, October Blood by Francine du Plessix Gray. Here they will see Kubie as many people at the time did—a slick bit of goods on the make among the rich, the famous, the gullible.

Lidz is survived by three sons, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

I am grateful to the Yale Bulletin and Calendar for posting the March 2, 2001 Volume 29, Number 21 issue on the internet, which provided most of the information in this summary.

Ann-Louise S. Silver, M.D