Monday, June 16, 2008

Fred G. Hilkert, 79

Last night, I received a call from the son of my psychiatrist, Fred G. Hilkert, to let me know that his father had died suddenly. Dr. Hilkert had been helping me to deal with the death of my father. He was a a psychoanalyst with a picture of Freud in his office, as this article from Psychiatry Online noted:
The office of Fred Hilkert, M.D., contains an etching of Sigmund Freud, a 19th-century divan, and an antique Greek bell krater (a container used for mixing wine and water). The ashes of both Freud and his wife were comingled in such a krater, the Washington, D.C., psychiatrist explained to Psychiatric News. The krater symbolizes what Freud felt was his greatest discovery, the Oedipus complex, derived from the play by Sophocles, "Oedipus Rex."

Although most American psychiatrists probably do not have such tangible reminders of Freud in their offices, few would dispute that Freud's concepts are still packing a powerful punch today, 150 years after his birth, regarding the practice of psychoanalysis, the practice of psychodynamic psychotherapy, and even the practice of psychiatry in general.

"Look at the number of people who confess to crimes they never committed! Unconscious guilt, and the need to confess, we have learned directly from Freud."

Power of Unconscious Still Rules

Even if Freud contended that the Oedipus complex was his greatest discovery, American psychiatrists are more likely in 2006 to rate his unveiling of the unconscious as his most momentous contribution to psychoanalysis, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and psychiatry in general.
In our discussions of how to cope with my father's death, Dr. Hilkert encouraged me to say Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead--despite what I had assumed was a psychoanalytic predisposition against superstition. I have done so, and have found saying Kaddish a comfort in time of loss. Interestingly, Dr. Hilkert was not Jewish--he was a German-American raised as a Catholic who later tended towards Episcopalianism. He was active in the Psychoanalytic Society of Washington, The American Academy of Psychoanalysis, and a member of the Cosmos Club. Like my father, he had been raised in the Bronx, where he went to the Bronx High School of Science--as my father once said when I related this item, "he had to be really smart." (Dad didn't make the cut, he graduated from George Washington High School.) His license plate read: "Freude."

A Google search turned up Dr. Hilkert's article in The Psychoanalytic Review about "Midwifery of the Soul: A Holistic Perspective on Psychoanalysis. Collected Papers of Margaret Arden" that helps explain how he saw his role:
Dr. Margaret Arden is an associate member of the Independent Group in the British Psycho-Analytical Society and gravitates toward their openness to ideas from other disciplines. It is her thesis that only receptivity to new ideas can enable a necessary reformulation of Freud's ideas and free psychoanalysis from its nineteenth-century mechanistic Cartesian constrictions. Dr. Arden's goal is psychic truth, and she states it can be found in religion as well as in psychoanalysis, the analyst as midwife to insight, which in her view is symbolically equivalent to religion's enlightenment.
I am grateful to have been his patient. For me, Dr. Hilkert was a midwife to insight about my father. (He was also a good general practitioner, diagnosing a number of non-psychological medical conditions). Like my late uncle Fritz Rath (also a psychoanalyst), Dr. Hilkert asked that his body be given to science, so there won't be a funeral. However, there are plans for a memorial service Friday, June 20th at 11am at St Albans Church.

May he rest in peace.

Washington Post obituary here.