On This Day … 12 February

People (Births)

  • 1861 – Lou Andreas-Salomé, Russian-German psychoanalyst and author (d. 1937).
  • 1918 – Norman Farberow, American psychologist and academic (d. 2015).

Lou Andreas Salome

Lou Andreas-Salomé (born either Louise von Salomé or Luíza Gustavovna Salomé or Lioulia von Salomé, Russian: Луиза Густавовна Саломе; 12 February 1861 to 5 February 1937) was a Russian-born psychoanalyst and a well-travelled author, narrator, and essayist from a Russian-German family. Her diverse intellectual interests led to friendships with a broad array of distinguished thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Paul Rée, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Norman Farberow

Norman Louis Farberow (12 February 1918 to 10 September 2015) was an American psychologist, and one of the founding fathers of modern suicidology. He was among the three founders in 1958 of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre, which became a base of research into the causes and prevention of suicide.

Career

Farberow served as a World War II Air Force Captain. The war years were a time in the United States of relatively low suicide rates, a wartime phenomenon commonly observed when a nation’s armed forces and citizens unite under feelings of common purpose and mutual goals.

After completing his tour of duty in World War II, Farberow enrolled in the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA’s doctoral programme in psychology afforded Farberow an opportunity to study suicide against centuries of shifting attitudes. With few relevant references to draw upon for his 1949 dissertation, Farberow saw the potential for reawakening “interest in a long-neglected, taboo-encrusted social and personal phenomenon.” Farberow earned his doctoral degree from UCLA in 1950 while working with veterans in the Veterans Administration Mental Hygiene Clinic. He helped found the suicide prevention centre along with Robert E. Litman.

In the decade after the war, suicide rates rose quickly as the sense of unity and shared purpose began to disappear. Wrenching social and personal readjustments were often needed, and these needs were further complicated by the emotional distress and mental health problems of returning veterans. Many expressed their deepening inner turmoil in unhealthy ways, through suicidal impulses and acts. Suicide’s continuing taboo, embedded in cultural and religious condemnations of shame, guilt, self-blame and cowardice, magnified an underlying sense of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Farberow saw the effects of these dynamics and how they compounded the misery of those who were suffering. His vision for solutions grew to include fundamental and humanitarian changes to the way in which communities treated the suicidal. Soon his time as a psychotherapist became eclipsed by his continuing research on suicide with Dr. Edwin Shneidman, a colleague equally passionate about changing the understanding and prevention of self-inflicted death.

During the 1950s, the men worked together at the Veterans Administration (VA) in Los Angeles and sought answers for another jump in suicide rates – the sudden doubling of suicides among the VA’s neuropsychiatric hospital patients. At the same time, a survey they had conducted of L.A.-area hospitals, clinics, and emergency rooms revealed that no provisions existed for the follow-up care of suicide attempters. Farberow and Shneidman shared their findings with the National Institute of Mental Health and the VA and proposed the creation of two agencies: a community-based Referral Centre for treating the psychological problems of the suicidal, and a Central Research Unit for assessing and investigating suicide among veterans within the VA.

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