In memoriam: Peter Blos, Ph.D.

In memoriam: Peter Blos, Ph.D.

Esman, Aaron H

Peter Blos died in his 94th year on June 12, 1997 at his home in Holderness, New Hampshire. He is survived by his wife, Betsy Thomas Blos, his son, Peter Blos, Jr., M. D., his daughter, Lillemor Beenhouwer, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

The customary biographical data-his birth in Karlsruhe, Germany; his teaching diploma from the University of Heidelberg; his Ph. D. in biology from Vienna; his emigration to the United States in 1934; his years of teaching and guidance work in New Orleans and New Yorkevoke some of the flavor of his restless, inquiring mind and his devotion to education and psychological service to the young. But the heart of his professional life and the organizing core of his work derived from those years in Vienna when he became a part of the psychoanalytic circle, began his psychoanalytic studies, and served as director of the now legendary Experimental School, in collaboration with Anna Freud, August Aichorn, Dorothy Burlingham, and his childhood friend Erik Erikson. Out of this experience grew his commitment to the welfare of the young, a commitment from which he never wavered and to which he brought the full measure of his creative energy.

My first encounter with him occurred at the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York, where, as a newly-appointed junior psychiatric consultant, I was given the privilege of attending his staff training seminars on adolescence. It was there that he developed and refined his ideas about assessment and adolescent development that were elaborated in his now classic book, On Adolescence (1962). There he proposed his (by now canonical) classification of developmental substages, as well as formulating the process of ego development in adolescence and the crucial influence of sociocultural factors on that process.

On Adolescence established Peter as the founding father of the modern understanding of adolescent development and psychopathology. His later work, much of it published in these Annals, served to deepen and consolidate this position. Drawing on the work of Margaret Mahler, he set forth in 1967 the concept of the “second individuation process,” in which he described the oscillation between progressive and regressive trends that, in his view, were indispensable for normal developmental progression. Still later, he propounded in a series of papers and in his book Sons and Fathers ( 1985) the view that the consolidation of psychic structure and character development in late adolescence (particularly in males) is contingent on the resolution of the preoedipal dyadic attachment to the same-sex parent and its reactivation during the oedipal period and in early adolescence.

True to his early interest in education, Peter was a dedicated and gifted teacher. After he was (somewhat belatedly) granted a Special Membership in the New York Psychoanalytic Society in 1965, he was appointed the following year as a Supervisor and Instructor in the Child Analysis program at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. In that role, he served as a mentor and model to generations of students and candidates in Child and Adolescent Analysis. Subsequently, in 1967 he was appointed lecturer, and taught the course in adolescent development in that and the following year. A few years later, in 1972, he introduced a course in the analysis of the late adolescent, which he continued to offer until his retirement from active teaching in 1977. He also lent his talents as teacher and supervisor to other training facilities, notably to the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center, where he was a founding member of their Child Analysis program.

As we both aged, we came to see each other less, mostly at meetings, occasionally at parties. But Peter was unfailingly generous in responding to appeals for advice, opinions, and ideas. It is a source of pride and pleasure to me that he proposed me as discussant for papers that he and others presented at various meetings, and he was invariably gracious and complimentary in his responses to these discussions.

Peter was, in that overused phrase, a Renaissance man-scholar, therapist, musician, craftsman, poet. He was, in truth, a towering figure in the scientific and intellectual life of our time, one of the last of a great generation of clinical scholars whose work formed the foundations of psychoanalysis and of adolescent psychiatry as we have come to know them. His contributions to the understanding and, therefore, the welfare of young people everywhere are boundless and of lasting value. He will be missed and mourned by all who knew him and were touched by his wisdom, his good humor, his enthusiasm, and his generosity of spirit. My own debt to him can never be repaid.

Copyright Analytic Press 1998

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