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Astor, J. (1989). A Conversation with Dr Donald Meltzer. J. Child Psychother., 15(1):1-13.

(1989). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 15(1):1-13

A Conversation with Dr Donald Meltzer

James Astor

How did you become interested in working with children?

“The route is very direct. As a medical student I had done medicine in order to become a psychoanalyst. During medical school I did an elective in Bellevue Hospital on Loretta Bender's ward where the original work with schizophrenic children was done and it just grabbed me. Of course it was there that I first heard of Melanie Klein; Loretta Bender gave me The Psychoanalysis of Children and that also grabbed me, particularly in that context, where I was seeing terribly psychotic children, both heartbreaking and fascinating. Nothing was being done therapeutically, they were being given electric shock treatment.”

Did you have to give these children ECTs?

“No they didn't ask medical students to do this work. Then when I went to do my psychiatric training in St Louis I specialised in child psychiatry. It was there that I finally arranged, through the Air Force, to come to England and study with Mrs Klein. This was in 1954.”

What were you doing in the Air Force?

“Oh that was the Korean War, they couldn't get Doctors for the services, so they drafted the Doctors. Then having done my mandatory two years of service, I could make a deal with them to extend my service in order to be posted to a particular place.”

You say you were grabbed by this book of Mrs Klein's, but prior to this experience had you been trying to treat children by other methods?

“One of the reasons that I chose St Louis, other than the fact that it was half way between my family and my wife's family, was that there was a study group from the Chicago Institute and there was a big Department of Child Psychiatry, which was very psychoanalytically orientated. My training in child psychiatry was very much from the point of view of analytic therapy. During my six years in St Louis I had analysis and training seminars and it was there that I started working with autistic children. I did some research on autistic children and on strabismus in children.”

What is strabismus?

“Cross-eyed. I had been cross-eyed myself and it was of great interest to me. Actually I was wall-eyed. It is all right now, except when I am tired.”

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