Monday, 12 October 2009
This is my grandad's obituary from The Guardian.
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The psychiatrist Arthur Hyatt Williams, who has died aged 94 after a long illness, was a pioneer in treating criminals psychoanalytically. Widely known as Hyatt, he was a warm, energetic and optimistic person, both boyish and paternal. He believed strongly that even the most hardened criminals, including murderers for whom there was no chance of direct reparation, could be helped to work on their sense of guilt and modify their destructive tendencies, and he would put himself out to a great degree in order to treat them.
This belief was one source of his enthusiastic campaigning, along with Leo Abse and others, for the abolition of the death penalty, which came in 1965. Hyatt also did long-term work with people who might otherwise have become violent. It is hard to demonstrate the full value of such preventive work.
He was one of a relatively small group of prominent psychoanalysts who combined their high level of commitment to psychoanalysis with a passionate dedication to the public sector. Moreover, where tough work was to be done – with very disturbed adolescents, or psychotically depressed postnatal mothers, or couples involved in domestic violence, say – there Hyatt would be.
As a child brought up in a family of modest means on the Wirral, Cheshire, Hyatt developed a lifelong passion for all things living. At the age of 13 he was so fascinated by the butterflies on a visit to Liverpool Museum that the curator asked his mother if the young enthusiast could come each week and help. He first wanted to become a zoologist. Instead, partly as a result of winning a scholarship, he studied medicine at Liverpool University, later specialising as a psychiatrist, and going on to train as a psychoanalyst, qualifying in 1952.
His first analyst was Elizabeth Rosenberg (later Zetzel), till she returned to America after a year. Then he saw Eva Rosenfeld; she had helped Sigmund Freud and his family leave Vienna in 1938 before herself settling in London.
During the second world war, Hyatt did three years' service in military hospitals, followed by three years in military psychiatry, with Indian troops, in India and Burma, where he was mentioned in dispatches for his work in a forward area. He was also involved as a psychiatrist in the innovative War Office selection boards.
One of his stories from this vivid period concerned his calling a fellow officer a "moronic psychopath". The officer complained to the commander, who listened carefully and said: "This is a serious situation. I have known Dr Williams for a long time and have followed his work closely. I have never known him to be wrong in the diagnoses he makes."
After the war, Hyatt worked first in Maidstone, Kent, and then, during the 1950s, began a part-time involvement with criminals at Wormwood Scrubs prison, west London. This became the field of his most significant work. No doubt for personal reasons, but also to help him in dealing with the destructiveness of some of his patients, he went back into analysis, first with Melanie Klein – as one of her last two patients – then, after her death in 1960, with Hanna Segal.
In 1962, his work in prisons was complemented by his joining the staff of the Tavistock Clinic, in Hampstead, north London, as consultant psychiatrist and subsequently chair of the adolescent department (1969-78). He played a big role in the recognition of adolescence as a specific entity, rather than as merely an intermediate waiting period between childhood and adulthood. His psychoanalytic work included treatment of adolescents and adults presenting a full range of difficulties.
Hyatt's book 'Cruelty, Violence and Murder' (1998) outlines his concept of the "death constellation": the tilting of the balance between destructive and constructive elements in the personality, so that in some cases, for a combination of constitutional and environmental reasons, an imbalance arises. When this imbalance coalesces into a character trait the person has to kill off whatever is too painful. Through a relationship in which mourning and remorse become possible, people in this situation can be helped to find their more human potential. Hyatt stressed that mourning is indispensable for mental health in general, as well as in the processing of murderousness arising from the death constellation.
He was no stranger himself to loss and mourning. When his first two wives, both psychoanalysts, died relatively young, Hyatt was devastated, and characteristically not ashamed to show it and share it. In 1939, he married Lorna Bunting; in 1972, Shiona Tabor, nee White; and, in 1987, Gianna Henry, nee Polacco, a child psychotherapist and later a psychoanalyst.
Hyatt's love of nature led him to spend time in cottages in the country in Britain and Italy, and to do voluntary work on the protection of butterflies. He is remembered at the Cassell hospital, west London, where he also worked, for changing from his suit (and his challenging work with troubled families) into his gardening clothes, and producing lots of vegetables. He is said to have grown aubergines in pots on the sunny window-ledge of his office at the Tavistock – he was equally prolific with ideas. He loved literature, knowing by memory large chunks of Shakespeare, Keats, Coleridge and writing beautiful papers on their work. He taught and lectured widely, not only in Britain but in Australia, the US, Italy and Spain.
From 1982 to 1985 he was director of the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis, where he was helpfully straightforward to colleagues and students alike. He was an excellent supervisor; I remember him speaking about a patient who had dreams of working for the charity War On Want. Hyatt's comments about her making war on her own wanting helped me to understand in a new way something about the death instinct. This was a typical intervention: bold, insightful, graphic and non-judgmental. It was characteristic, too, of his love of and respect for word play.
Hyatt recalled becoming the target of a lorry driver's rage while he was driving from treating a murderer in Pentonville. After Hyatt had managed to defuse the situation, the lorry driver said: "If you don't want to get into a fight you'd better not look like that" – which Hyatt took as a helpful warning to him to create more space in order to separate himself better from the impact of the murderer's personality.
After his official retirement from his NHS post in 1979, Hyatt continued to teach at the Tavistock and to co-chair a workshop in the adolescent department for at least another 20 years, well into his 80s. He also worked as a psychoanalyst up to the age of 88.
He is survived by Gianna, by four sons from his first marriage and by four stepdaughters.• Arthur Hyatt Williams, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, born 23 September 1914; died 27 August 2009