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Published:

August 15, 2019
 

Research, Parental Loss, and Me


by Marvin Eisenstadt, Ph.D. Class of 1964

I did research on creativity and it led to my Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1964 from the Derner Institute, although perhaps not its name then. 

Dr. Richard Klein, one of my professors, suggested I prepare a questionnaire for the 40 creative and 40 non-creative City College of New York students I was using for the dissertation study. Among the 19 questions was included father’s occupation and mother’s occupation. The students were mostly 19 year olds with exceptions, and seven creatives and three non-creatives told me their parents had died. This unexpected result was nagging me as I went about writing up the conclusions of my study (“The effect of threat on the problem-solving ability of creative and non-creative college students”). 

Once freed from classes and research protocols, I used my “free time” to read entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica on famous and creative individuals. Seven and three turned into 600 or so! It took me 10 years of library work to find death dates on a final list of 251 writers, 177 states-men, 108 philosophers, 95 science-scholars, 57 artists, 23 composers, and others utilizing a parental-loss profile that defined their orphanhood. Early loss of parents was found to be characteristic of these eminent individuals. 

The successful creative product or the important political role alleviates negative effects and becomes a restorative act. The trauma leads to a great 

motivation to excel. The orphan may emerge as the glorious best of humanity or the infamous worst of history. 

Have I aroused your interest? Are you curious to follow up? Is there a new research project inspired by these results? 

The American Psychologist published “Parental Loss and Genius” in March 1978, and it went around the world to over 1,000. The book followed – Parental Loss and Achievement (1989) – and later the book Essential Papers on Object Loss (1994) included the American Psychologist article.

The 1989 book was co-authored by Andre Haynal, a Professor of Psychiatry, University of Geneva and former president of the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society; by Pierre Rentchnick, also from Geneva University, who was chief editor of Médecine & Hygiène; and by Pierre de Senaclens, a Professor of International Relations at University of Lausanne. All were well known, but not by me at the time. 

I was Chief Psychologist at Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services in Hicksville, NY and had associations with Adelphi, Yeshiva, and Hofstra Universities as a clinical supervisor of interns. I was a past member of the Nassau County Psychological Association when it had 1,000 plus members! 

While in a meeting in the outpatient clinic in Hicksville, I received a package from the three co-authors who had published Les Orphelins Menent-ils le Monde? in 1978 in Paris and read the 1978 American Psychologist article. It was a copy of their book. Do Orphans Rule the World? was the English title. I had it translated and it became part of Parental Loss and Achievement.

As I like to say, I thought I would be the caboose on this train, but they were in Geneva and I was in Hicksville. The book was published eventually in Connecticut, so I became the engineer instead. 

Why did it take 11 years to go from article to book? you ask. The French needed to be translated into English, but articles used by the Swiss authors had been published originally in English and then incorporated into their French publication. I was asked by my editor – get the original English articles and use them instead of the many translations. That took more research years. Remember this also, at the time I had a full time job and a small private practice and a wife and two daughters, which interfered with the project. But the change from 1978 article into the 1989 book was eventually done. So what if it took 11 years? 

It sold perhaps 2,000 copies and I made no money on it at all. My expenses more than overcame the small royalties I shared with three other authors. So what? 

I was on the radio discussing it. Two pages of Newsday were devoted to my research. I received interest and support from my colleagues. I even obtained an employment offer because of the topic and the nature of the clientele patients. All in all, riches abound when the research one does is a passionate affair that is unquestionably important (to you) and those others that influence you.

By the way – the Swirbul Library has an exhibit of my other efforts in their recently highlighted Derner Alumni Collection. Check it out. It’s titled “Gordon’s Scholars.” 

Dr. Marvin Eisenstadt (Ph.D., ’64) is a retired clinical psychologist. Over the course of his career, in addition to his research and writing, he held a variety of clinical roles, including outpatient clinic and psychiatric hospital positions, and a private practice. For many years he was the director of psychological services at the MercyFirst residential treatment program in Syosset, NY. In addition to clinical responsibilities, Dr. Eisenstadt also oversaw training of MercyFirst’s clinical psychology interns. With Drs. Hayal, Rentchnick, and De Searclens, he is the author of Parental Loss and Achievement, which can be found in the Derner Alumni Collection at Adelphi’s Swirbul Library.


References 

Eisenstadt, J. M. (1978). Parental loss and genius. American Psychologist, 33(3), 211-223. 

Eisenstadt, M., Haynal, A., Rentchnick, P., & De Senarclens, P. (1989). Parental loss and achievement. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc. 

Frankiel, R. V. (Ed.). (1994). Essential papers on object loss. New York, NY: NYU Press. 

 

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