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Obituary of Paul A. Dewald: psychoanalyst, teacher

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2011 - To appreciate of the complexity of Paul A. Dewald, who died Thursday, and to discover his place in the cultural history as well as the medical history of America, it is helpful to consider a portrait taken of his father, Jacob, only moments after the infant Paul was born in New York City almost a century ago.

The portrait proclaims a man enraptured, one set free to experience the joys associated with generating a new life, and of his own fatherhood, of family, of youth and robust good health.

It is important to note the artist who produced this portrait was the American master Alfred Stieglitz, a friend of the family.

Dr. Dewald, 91, died at the Brentmoor Retirement Community in Ladue, where he had lived in recent years.

The Stieglitz portrait was a fitting visual celebration of the beginning of the life of one who would become one of the most revered and influential psychoanalysts of his time.

His mother, Elsie, and his father, Jacob, were products of the cultivated German Jewish circles of New York City in the 19th and 20th centuries, and were fixtures of Felix Adler's Society of Ethical Culture. Adler was a member of a great rabbinical family, and his movement was born in the great temple of Reform Judaism, Emanu-El, in New York City. It grew into independence as a movement that stressed "deeds not creeds," however -- ethics over theology.

It was a fiercely intellectual and socially activist movement, and as such a perfect philosophical nest for men and women such as the Dewalds. In addition to their support of Ethical Culture, Paul Dewald's parents collected art brilliantly, choosing works from their friend Stieglitz's Gallery 291. Their collection was distinguished particularly by the works of the then barely known and the generally unrecognized American artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Arthur B. Dove, Stanton MacDonald-Wright and a few early works by Thomas Hart Benton.

Their apartment on the Upper West Side was decorated by McDonald-Wright, who designed lamps and fabrics for them, and insisted on painting ceilings blue rather than white. Conversations Dr. Dewald was exposed to in this atmosphere were informed, intelligent, advanced, at times radical.

Paul Adolph Dewald was educated at the progressive Ethical Culture-Fieldston Schools in New York, which his parents had attended, and where they had studied with the likes of Lewis Hine. Paul Strand, the eminent photographer, was a schoolmate. All this informed the development of Dr. Dewald, and strongly affected his worldview, contributing to his unfailing allegiance to the discipline and practice of psychoanalysis.

After graduating from Fieldston School, he continued his education at Swarthmore, a Quaker college, in Swarthmore, Pa. He received his A.B. degree from it in 1942. He studied medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and graduated in 1945, and served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant and captain from 1946 to 1948. His internship and residencies were at Strong Memorial-Rochester Municipal Hospital. He received his certification in psychoanalysis from the State University of New York, Downstate, in Brooklyn in 1960.

The next year was momentous for Dr. Dewald personally and professionally: He moved from his native New York to the Midwest, to St. Louis. His move also was of extraordinary importance to the fledgling St. Louis Psychoanalytic Foundation, which was the Institute's status before achieving full institutional status in the 1970s.

Psychoanalyst Nathan M. Simon, M.D., was Dr. Dewald's student, colleague and friend for half a century. He remembered those days on Thursday.

"Paul came to St. Louis at a crucial point," Simon said. "There were only four psychoanalysts in St. Louis at the time, and the plan was to make it a training center for analysts. Paul really invigorated the group here; plus, because of the strength of his personality, he was a tremendous front man for psychoanalysis itself, and he led people to support it.

"His strong personality became apparent quickly. He assumed a leadership role as director of the original foundation and then of the Institute." And Simon noted that his influence extended far beyond St. Louis, thanks to his writing. "His book on psychodynamic psychotherapy ("Psychotherapy: A Dynamic Approach," published in 1964) became a favored textbook," Simon said.

"He developed a congenial group -- everyone had a sense of collegiality." Of shared consequence, Simon said, "Through him we recognized there were more people who shared interests and convictions, and psychoanalysis assumed an important place in mental health in St. Louis." Parties and gatherings given by Dr. Dewald, and his wife Eleanor, called Nell, contributed to the sense of collegiality and connectedness.

In addition to being a center of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapeutic treatment, the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute has maintained over the years an important role in teaching. "He was crucial in shaping the original classes," Simon said. And his influence continued to inform the development and growth of its programs.

The psychoanalytic model requires that candidates for certification as analysts go through the process themselves. Simon said, "Paul was personal analyst of many who came to the institute."

As analyst and trailblazer, Dr. Dewald in 1972 published a radical book, "The Psychoanalytic Process," in which he presented, day-by-day, session-by-session, the analysis of a woman in treatment with him. It is a fascinating, absorbing and revealing book, a testament to the efficacy of the talking cure, formulated by Sigmund Freud in 19th century Vienna.

Simon said, as far as he knows, the only person to have written such a book was Freud himself, and the analysis described by Freud was a brief one.

"Freud was Paul's only predecessor (in writing such a document), and Freud covered only a handful of sessions. Paul's account covered 2 years, and was ground breaking. It received a lot of adverse criticism," Simon said, "but critics of the book missed the point. Paul was not saying he was right, but to show how an analysis is done. 'This is it,' he was saying. 'I'm showing people what an analyst does.'"

Dr. Dewald continued to teach until recently, and he taught with passion, erudition and clarity, Simon said. Gail Glenn, a psychoanalyst, a student of Dr. Dewald and a colleague at the Institute, said, "Paul Dewald was the ultimate teacher, mentor. Although the world knew of his academic writings and analytic therapeutic skills, in his soul, he prided himself as an educator."

Glenn has served the Institute as a member of its board and as dean of the faculty Dr. Dewald helped to build.

"Every analyst in St. Louis was touched by Paul's insights and charm," Glenn said. "His patients, students and colleagues admired and benefitted from his encouraging words and modeling. An ability to reduce complicated analytic concepts to everyday language distinguished Paul's appeal to all audiences."

Glenn said when she was a new analyst, Dr. Dewald collaborated with her on a paper in Spain. "His encouragement, support and mutual professional recognition touched me deeply. I honor this incredible man, when I work, teach, supervise and mentor others in the field. I could ask for no better role model and fan than Paul Dewald. Along with others, I will miss him deeply," she said.

As his colleague Eric J. Nuetzel, M.D., wrote in a tribute to Dr. Dewald, sent Thursday to the American Psychoanalytic Association, "Paul was the foundation of the psychoanalytic community in St. Louis, and was instrumental in establishing the psychoanalytic community in Nashville, Tenn., as well. He served the Association in many ways, notably leading the Ethics and Program Committees."

Nuetzel was one of Dr. Dewald's successors as director of the Institute.

"Always lucid and logical," Nuetzel wrote, "I thought of him as the left brain of psychoanalysis. Those of us who knew him well will miss him greatly, and will console ourselves with the memory of his integrity, commitment, intelligence, generosity and kindness. He imparted clinical knowledge and skills to generations of medical students, residents in psychiatry, psychoanalytic candidates and colleagues. He was a truly remarkable person, who will remain with us in all that he left behind."

Dr. Dewald's literary output was prodigious, as was his involvement with psychoanalysis and community affairs. His curriculum vitae covers 17 single-spaced typewritten pages. It details his professorial services on the faculties of the medical schools of Washington University and Saint Louis University, as well as the faculty of his beloved Psychoanalytic Institute.

In addition to his work as a clinician, teacher and director of the Institute, he was active in civic affairs related to mental health, among them work on the Missouri State Mental Health Commission, of which he was chairman in 1981-82. The Paul A. Dewald Fund for Education in Psychoanalysis was established to honor him and to further the work of his profession and the St. Louis community. The Paul A. Dewald Lecture was established to honor him as well.

Dr. Dewald is survived by his wife, Eleanor, of St. Louis; a daughter, Ellen D. Greenfeld, of Wayland, Mass.; a son, Jonathan S. Dewald, of Buffalo, N.Y; two stepdaughters: Georgia Scarbrough, Middletown, Mo., and Katharine Field, New Vineyard, Me.; three stepsons: Robert W. Atkins Jr., Long Beach, Calif.; William T. Atkins, Brookeville, Md., and Lawrence Atkins, Washington; and 14 grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete. The family requests donations be made to the Paul A. Dewald Lecture at the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, 8820 Ladue Rd., St. Louis, Mo., 63124.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.