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Obituary for Hartvig Dahl
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Obituary for Hartvig Dahl

Hartvig Dahl, In Memoriam

Hartvig DahlHartvig Dahl, MD died on March 17, 2007 at the age of 83. Along with so many colleagues and friends who knew and loved him, I am deeply saddened by his death. Hartvig was one of my important teachers and mentors in research on the psychoanalytic process and in psychotherapy research. He had a very deep and thorough grasp of the scientific method and an unwavering commitment to advancing our understanding of the mind, psychopathology, and psychotherapy through empirical research. Many of his colleagues and students were inspired by his incisive intellect and saw him as an exceptional theorist and a true scientist of the mind

Hartvig received his psychiatric training at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. After completing his psychiatric residency, he began psychoanalytic training and graduated from the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1964 he received an NIH Research Scientist Award to pursue psychoanalytic research and joined the prestigious Research Center for Mental Health at New York University, working with Robert Holt, George Klein, Merton Gill, Donald Spence, Lester Luborsky, and many other distinguished psychoanalytic researchers. In 1972 he joined the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York, where he established his Research Unit for the Study of Psychoanalysis. He was a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society where he served as Director of Research for over two decades. For almost 25 years, Hartvig organized and chaired the George Klein Forum at the annual American Psychoanalytic Association meetings. These lively day-long meetings brought together psychoanalysts and scientists from a variety of disciplines to discuss research findings, methods, and proposals that shed light on psychoanalytic theory and clinical work.

I believe that most people who knew Hartvig and his work well would characterize him as an incredibly bold and passionate pioneer. He was adamant in his belief that tape-recording psychoanalytic sessions was essential for psychoanalysis to have credibility as a science, and he was equally adamant that in order for the field of psychotherapy research to advance more work was needed to develop and test theories about the nature of psychopathology and how therapy helps to ameliorate it. In both of these areas, Hartvig made substantive contributions. He developed an archive of verbatim transcripts of psychoanalytic sessions and himself recorded a six-year psychoanalysis – the famous case of Mrs. C, which has been studied by numerous investigators. He developed a theory of emotions as representing both wishes and beliefs about their fulfillment and then used various transcripts from his archive to empirically validate a system of classifying emotions. His work on emotion theory led to his developing the concept of FRAMES (Fundamental, Repetitive And Maladaptive Emotion Structures), which provides a reliable method of identifying unconscious emotion structures in psychotherapy sessions as well as in other forms of narratives.

Hartvig was passionate about his ideas and his work and spent many years refining and empirically testing his emotion theory and his work on FRAMES in psychotherapy. His enthusiasm for research was immediately evident to everyone who met him but that passionate enthusiasm was most evident when he talked about his long, loving, and productive collaboration with his wife, Virginia Teller – who he once described to me as the most brilliant person he had ever met. Hartvig was a man of enormous intellectual and scientific integrity. He was enormous in other ways too: at 6'7'' he was inevitably the biggest person at any meeting or gathering! He was also an enormously sentimental, caring man, and consequently many of his friends referred to him as Big Heart. I will miss him.

George Silberschatz, Ph.D.

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