Volume 76, Number 45 | April 4 - 10, 2007


Hartvig Dahl, 83, psychology pioneer

By Albert Amateau

Dr. Hartvig Dahl, a psychoanalytic research pioneer and a resident of the Village for more than 40 years, died March 17 after a long illness at the age of 83.

His work under the auspices of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute led him to record an entire six-year psychoanalysis — 1,114 sessions — that he conducted from 1968 to 1974 in a specially constructed soundproof room at New York University.

Known as “The Case of Mrs. C,” the work has been used in many research studies, noted his wife, Virginia Teller, a linguistics professor and chairperson of the Department of Computer Science at Hunter College.

A founding member of the International Society for Research on the Emotions, Dahl discovered fundamental repetitive and maladaptive emotion structures (FRAMES) that many patients reveal during the course of psychoanalytic sessions.

In a recent eulogy, two of his longtime colleagues, Wilma Bucci and Norbert Freedman, wrote that they recalled him saying 30 years ago: “Psychoanalysis has along way to go, it is under attack from philosophers, analysts and hermeneuticists alike for its claim to be a science, but we’ll get there.”

Much of his work involved linguistic analysis and was done in collaboration with his wife. He was a striking figure: tall, thin and blond, 6 feet 7 inches and weighing 195 pounds, his wife noted.

Born in North Dakota the son of Hartvig N. and Martha Dahl, he had rheumatic fever as a child and his mother died when he was 6 years old. He went to Jamestown College and then to medical school in Grand Forks, N.D. While in medical school, he was drafted into the Army during World War II and continued at the University of Illinois Medical School in Chicago where he earned his M.D.

Hartvig Dahl served as an Army doctor in Panama and in Okinawa, where, without any psychoanalytic training, he was appointed the island’s psychiatric director. Discharged in 1948, he studied psychiatry at the renowned Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kan., and knew one of the co-founders, Dr. Karl Menninger.

Dahl was a graduate of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and practiced in Seattle until 1964, when he received a Public Health Service Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Health and joined the Research Center for Mental Health at N.Y.U.
In 1972 he joined the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he established the Research Unit for the Study of Recorded Psychoanalysis.

Except for his wife, he has no direct family survivors.

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