Remembering Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst Roy Schafer, PhD
By Gregory D. Farr, MLIS, CA
Dr. Roy Schafer, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who understood much about psychoanalytic change while living through many changing times, died on August 5, 2018, at the age of 95. He will be remembered for his pioneering work in psychological diagnostic assessment and for his seminal reconceptualization of psychoanalysis in the terms of “action language” in relation to subjective experience. Schafer’s theoretical contributions served to clarify and elucidate fundamental concepts in psychoanalytic metapsychology, provoking new debate within psychoanalytic theory, and his practical articulation of complex psychotherapeutic interactions within the process of psychoanalysis continue to provide new insights and understanding among contemporary clinicians.
Roy Schafer, the second of four children of Russian Jewish immigrants, was born in 1922 and grew up in the Bronx. After attending Evander Childs High School, Schafer graduated from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he became influenced by the instruction of Gardner Murphy, Isidor Chein, Martin Scheerer, Max Hertzman, and Joseph Barmack. It was in Barmack’s introductory psychology course that Schafer first discovered psychoanalysis. Immediately upon graduating from CCNY, Schafer went to the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, where he worked closely with then Chief Clinical Psychologist David Rapaport, in the study of psychological diagnostic testing. Schafer was deeply influenced by Rapaport’s talent for analytic critique and devoted study, as well as Rapaport’s developing psychoanalytic theory pertaining to ego development and the process of thinking. Subsequently, he was recruited along with Rapaport and other researchers from the Menninger Clinic by Dr. Robert Knight to become a member of the clinical staff at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts from 1947-1953. At Riggs, Schafer learned psychotherapy under the supervision of Margaret Brenman, Merton Gill, and Erik Erikson, and he would continue to develop his diagnostic testing skills working under David Rapaport’s direction and with colleagues Aaron Beck, Stuart Miller, Graham Blaine, and Allen Wheelis. Schafer’s expertise in psychological testing would later become useful to Attorney Melvin Belli, who called upon him to testify on behalf of Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, whom he diagnosed as suffering from organic brain damage that most likely resulted from a seizure disorder. [see “Death for Ruby”, Time (magazine), 1964-03].
Following his clinical staff appointment at Austen Riggs, Schafer became chief psychologist in the Yale Medical School Department of Psychiatry from 1953 to 1961 and, subsequently, a staff psychologist for Yale’s Health Service (1961–1976), during which time he was appointed clinical professor. Later, beginning in 1968, Schafer became a training and supervising analyst in the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis (WNEIP) where he was supervised by Hans Loewald, Samuel Ritvo, and Marianne Kris. Schafer then served as professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Weill Medical College with a year abroad as the first Sigmund Freud Memorial Professor at University College London (1975-76) while additionally teaching and supervising analysts later at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. In 1979, he left Cornell and established a private practice in New York City. Schafer was the father of three daughters, Laura, Amy, and Sylvia, with his first wife, Sarah Poleyeff. Schafer was later re-married (and then widowed) to both Cecily de Monchaux (academic Psychologist at University College London, d. 1977) and Rita Frankiel (NYC Psychoanalyst, d. 2007).
InTradition and Change (1997), Schafer writes, “being curious is what goes best with being consistently analytic.” This sort of curiosity clearly is evident in Schafer’s prolific writing career, which includes his authorship of over 120 journal articles and 10 book publications. Known primarily for his work defining the analytic process manifest in narration and the hermeneutic understanding of life stories, Schafer won praise from his peers for his skillful integration of theoretical concepts developed in the Freudian and British neo-Kleinian schools of psychoanalytic thought and their pragmatic, psychotherapeutic application. Schafer also lectured extensively across the country on various topics of psychiatry and psychology, visiting the Austen Riggs Center regularly throughout the 1990s to offer presentations on topics such as free association, termination in psychotherapy, and psychoanalytic concepts of defense. Schafer would also lead special education seminars and provide professional consultation to Riggs staff members during this time.
Family, close friends, and his many colleagues will miss Roy Schafer; his life stories and scholarship surely forms an enduring legacy of creativity, innovation, and care for the Riggs community.
View a list of Dr. Shafer’s publications and honors.