Franklin James Cook

Robert Litman, L.A. Crisis Center Co-Founder, Dies at 88

In People on March 17, 2010 at 10:03 am

From left, Norman Farberow and Robert Litman

[Editor’s note: I apologize for being late in reporting on the passing of one of the founders of the first suicide prevention crisis center in America. FJC]

An announcement of the Feb. 14 death of Dr. Robert Litman — at age 88, of acute leukemia — came to the membership of the American Association of Sucidology in a letter from the organization’s executive director, Lanny Berman:

Bob was co-director and chief of psychiatry at the Institute for Studies of Destructive Behaviors and the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, a pioneer in the development and implementation of the psychological autopsy (with Ed Shneidman and Norman Farberow), and one of this country’s first and foremost forensic suicidologists … Bob’s psychoanalytic perspective and research interests ranged from the study of equivocal suicides, to the study of bondage deaths, to Freud’s contributions to our understanding of suicide. Norm Farberow described Litman as, “a free spirit cloaked in psychoanalytic trappings, always intellectually adventuresome and inquisitive.” This, and much, much more, he surely was.

In Litman’s obituary, Los Angeles Times reporter Valerie J. Nelson writes,

The idea for a suicide prevention center came from two Veterans Administration psychologists, Edwin S. Shneidman and Norman L. Farberow, who persuaded Dr. Litman, over drinks in Beverly Hills, to help establish it. Then director of the psychiatric unit at what is now Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Dr. Litman had written a paper on how to deal with suicide on a hospital ward. His interest in the subject was sparked by the death of his high school best friend, Thomas Heggen, who wrote the book and play “Mister Roberts” and whose death in 1949 was ruled a probable suicide. Although worried that the response to the proposed suicide center would be overwhelming, Dr. Litman signed on.

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