ALTHOUGH MY sister Adele Mittwoch was a practising psychotherapist for over 35 years, this had not been her first career choice. After graduating in physics, chemistry and mathematics, and with a master’s degree in organic chemistry, she worked for a number of years both in the food industry, as a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council, and as a maths teacher in secondary schools.
But gradually Adele became aware that there was more to life than hard science, and she decided to undergo psychoanalysis. This experience helped her gain new insights into life’s problems, and evidently had a strong effect on her personal development.
Even though she never gave up her scientific interests, she took up psychotherapy professionally and so instead of clarifying the mysteries of quadratic equations to school children, she directed her in-built fellow-feeling to help adults understand the equally puzzling problems of later life.
Following extensive training in individual and group therapy, part of which included voluntary work in therapeutic social clubs, Adele became an active and popular member of the Institute of Group Analysis and of the Group Analytic Society. She also had a large following in Germany. She was a founder member of their group analysis seminar (GRAS) and participated in their twice-yearly meetings for over 30 years. In this country, she continued working with groups, as well as with individual patients, until the end of her life.
A subject to which Adele returned repeatedly in publications and lectures, and which she thought exhibited a special relationship between psychoanalysis and Jewish teaching, was the topic of guilt and shame, the sense of which Freud called the superego. In a group session, the discussion would consider the best way to correct the aberrant behaviour, for instance, by an appropriate apology or the restitution of stolen property. Such actions are, of course, also necessary in Jewish tradition before divine atonement can be obtained.
Whereas discussions in groups of like-minded people may well generate mutual help and support, a manipulated crowd can have negative effects on those who get caught up in them. Adele related two personal experiences.
The first took place in 1954 when Billy Graham was in London, having enormous success in converting people to his faith. Adele was interested to find out the cause of this success and booked a session to hear him. She didn’t find the sermon interesting, nor was she impressed by his much-vaunted charisma. When he had finished speaking, the huge audience were invited to come forward to pledge themselves. No-one went. The organ began to play very softly. One man went forward.
As t he music became a little l ouder, t wo people got up, then a trickle and finally, at a r o u s - ing crescendo, t h e r e was a rush forward, and as the seats around Adele emptied, she remained in hers, persuaded to do so by the memory of Germany in the 1930s.
The other occasion occurred in a small gathering when the discussion was about pinning down a biblical story. She realised that they had agreed on the wrong story. Honest self-assessment, she judged, would lead one to follow Hillel’s precept (Ethics of the Fathers, 2.5): “Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.”
Adele never married, but was a devoted sister, aunt and great-aunt and will be widely missed. She was keen on rambles and physical exercise and for many years went on strenuous weekly walks on Hampstead Heath. She never missed a Pilates class until a month before her death. She was a member of Bevis Marks Synagogue, which she frequently attended.
She is survived by myself, an aunt and great-aunt.