International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Obituary

Posted 1 October 2001 in StressPoints by Arthur Egendorf

In all that Chaim (Hy) Shatan (1924-2001) leaves behind, at least three faces shine through: the human being, the organizer/campaigner and the artist. Hy was always all three-and more.

Yes, everyone is human. But in Yiddish, Hy's mother tongue, he was a "mensch," a term fraught with ethical import, the highest human achievement. Hy, the non-religious Jew, nevertheless met the ancient, Talmudic test: "To know how much goodness there is in a man, visit him at home." Hy leaves no greater living testament than his four offspring, their spouses and seven grandchildren, all close friends with one another and with their warm and generous mother and grandmother, Hy's wife, Norma.

Also testifying to Hy's menschlichkeit, are his progeny in spirit-the many hundreds of patients, analysands and therapists-in-training who were fortunate enough to sit in the presence of this unusually patient, attentive, intuitively gifted man.

After college and medical school at McGill, finishing in the late 1940s, Hy became a practicing psychoanalyst in New York, training at the prestigious William Alanson White Institute, later teaching and heading up the postdoctoral psychoanalytic clinic at New York University. But nothing in his resume captures what Jeffrey Jay has said: "He was so comfortable being a psychiatrist that he seldom acted like one."

I met Hy in 1970, in the first Vietnam veteran rap group-he organized the original cohort of 40 professional volunteers. Spending years of time in that effort, he helped make a place for people to explore what it might mean to transform their sufferings. He wrote about this topic in the New York Times and the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.Hy the organizer and campaigner then took off as never before. He hired a vet from the rap group to help, and lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to include a name and description in the official nosology to validate the reality of extreme, reactive suffering. We owe it to Hy's spearheading efforts that PTSD first appeared in the third edition of the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1980.

Hy also was an artist, a visionary and a prophet. Even late in life, Hy reread and discussed Shakespeare in formal courses. And in recent years, crippled with arthritis, he still managed to go to the theater and concerts. But most crucial, Hy used his gifts and greatly developed skill to see into our individual and collective predicament. He believed great truths cut across intellectual divides, bridging science, the arts and all forms of genuine inquiry.

Hy saw PTSD as more than a reactive, dysfunctional psychophysical state. He wanted us to understand and respond as to a great call from our human depths-to the cry of anguish that signals, most of all, a moral disorder that afflicts us all. He wanted our healing mission as traumatologists ultimately to address that wider disorder. He wished for us, in our efforts to foster human resilience, to raise one of the most fundamental questions: How do we manage to make our "selves"?

Meditating for decades on that and related issues, Hy concluded that we swim in a cultural sea whose terrible, self-fulfilling prophesy is an oppositional logic, one that presupposes enemies. Unless awakened to this great pitfall, nothing is so defining of who we are than whom we stand against. In Hy's coinage, "enemization" is pushed to the extreme in combat training. But Hy began to think, then speak out and write that enemization, or our implicit tendency to make other human beings a hated "sub-species," undeserving of life, pervades our social reality.

Hy saw a role for traumatologists as leaders, practicing and showing others how to practice a refusal to project evil onto others. Our work must transcend the age-old habit of making others the embodiment of propensities each of us is capable of. And in that effort, we not only assume a responsibility for the state of the world but also are granted a great privilege: to make our singular contributions, as co-creators of a culture that is truly hospitable to life.

Moral support, comments and suggestions provided by Norma Shatan, Dr. Gabrielle Shatan and Dr. Jeffrey Jay.