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Sunday, 26.03.2017

Barry Blackwell: Heinz E. Lehmann

Mary and Philip Seeman's Comments

Thank you, Dr. Blackwell for this great biography of the wonderful Heinz Lehmann. He was one of our instructors in psychiatry in the late 1950s at McGill Medical School. In our class, an unprecedented number of us went into psychiatry and there was undoubtedly a cause and effect relationship between Dr. Lehmann’s teaching and that outcome. He used to do tandem teaching with Dr. Tay Statten, a child psychiatrist, another great teacher. The lecture I remember best is the one about the cigarette case. Dr. Lehmann told the class a story about a patient who, after her consultation with a psychiatrist, left behind her silver cigarette case. “What caused her to do that?” Dr. Lehmann asked the class. “It was an accident,” we said. “Too many things on her plate,” said the feminists. “In a hurry to get back to her lover,” said one smart Alec. “Her parking meter ran out,” said another. “Ah,” said Dr. Lehmann, “You are ignoring the interpersonal. She may have wanted an excuse to come back. She may have expected the doctor to run after her with the case and, thus, to spend more time with her, shortchanging his next client, whom she saw as a rival. She may have wanted to give him the case as a gift, but had not wanted to do it directly, in case he refused.  Maybe it was a test to see if he would keep it, if he could be trusted. Maybe she wanted to show him that, despite medical advice, she was a smoker, a rebel. Maybe it was an expensive case and she wanted to show off her wealth. Or it was a stolen case and her guilt made her leave it behind, a confession and an expiation.”  Dr. Lehmann went on with more possibilities, more on the mysterious motives that make people unconsciously do things to evoke complicated responses from others. It was this lesson, more than reading Freud, that taught us about transference and the power of the unconscious, and this from a man who is considered a “biological” psychiatrist.

In later years we used to meet Dr. Lehmann at the ACNP conferences in Puerto Rico. This famous, beloved man was always wandering around alone. It said something about him, but also something about the sociological aspect of large group meetings, the loneliness of being in a crowd. Sometimes we saw him go scuba diving and he was no longer young by then! An intrepid man. Independent. Brave. Thoughtful. A man for all seasons.

 

Mary and Philip Seeman (MD McGill Class of 1960)

January 28, 2016