Notes for reminiscences of David Rapaport

Robert R. Holt

[Discussion at the panel "40th Anniversary of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group: Reflections on David Rapaport", held on June 14, 2003, at the Annual Meeting of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group]


Just reread my memoir in Motives & Thought (Holt, 1960); hard to add much to that. But I'll try.

First encounter: when he came to Harvard Psychological Clinic, invited by Henry A. Murray, to tell us about diagnostic testing. Remember being impressed with his intensity, his scholarship, the mutual respect he & Murray had for one another, but don't recall any details.

Maybe 3 or 4 years later, I was working in the Department of Agriculture on survey research work (in the Division of Program surveys). When the war was over, I told Murray that I was interested in getting back into work on clinical issues. David Rapaport had asked him to recommend some of his students, so I got a phone call out of the blue at work: "A Dr. Rapaport wants to talk to you." We made a date for me to see him at his hotel room, where he quizzed me on my work at the Harvard Clinic, my interest in psychoanalysis and in diagnostic testing; he seemed pleased that I felt pretty competent in working with the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) but had had only the slightest introduction to the Rorschach (a set of half a dozen lectures by Jurgen Ruesch, who was hardly an expert). I later learned that he considered it an asset that I was interested in tests but had no clinical experience and had never given a Rorschach or a Wechsler, because he insisted that all recruits learn his approach, and I would have less to unlearn. 

Soon after that very formal interview, I had another phone call at work: "Dr. Karl Menninger wants to talk to you!" No one in that shop had heard of David Rapaport, all knew Karl A. Mennnger and were impressed. Karl spoke with his usual expansive seductiveness: both Olympian and welcoming, telling me about the great new enterprise they were beginning: a Menninger School of Psychiatry (biggest in the world) now and a School of Clinical Psychology later, and offering me not just a job but the opportunity to enlist in this historic endeavor on the ground floor, as if it were a great privilege (which it was). Not long after, my wife, baby daughter & I packed up and moved out to Topeka, where we lived in a barracks part of the Winter General Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. Louisa, my first wife, was a sociologist who had had training in psychoanalysis and was offered a chance to teach sociology in the Menninger School of Psychiatry and to continue work on her Ph.D. thesis as a member of David Rapaport's research department, so she was eager to go.

The other recruits for the Psych. Department of the newly reorganized VA Hospital included Bob Challman, the head, Mike Dunn, and Milt Wexler, plus Marty Mayman, who had already been trained and had just moved over from the Menninger Foundation. All the others had had a good deal of experience, but they were treated exactly as I was: given the assignment to read the recently published Diagnostic Psychological Testing and discuss it especially the theoretical rationale sections before we began doing any testing. Then we observed David Rapaport, Sibylle K. Escalona, Margaret Brenman, and Marty Mayman administer the various tests of the battery, and he arranged for me to attend his lectures on testing which he gave to the psychiatric residents. I also had the chance to meet with him alone a couple of times a week to discuss what I was learning in these various ways. He asked me about my reactions after the first lecture I attended. Feeling incompetent to comment on the substance, I congratulated him on the extraordinary effectiveness of his lecture style [imitate]. He was quite annoyed, offended really that I had chosen to talk about such trivia. But he always listened intently and respectfully to my comments, callow though they often were, and would find some take-off point in them to continue my education.

That first spring several others joined us, including Geo Klein. After we developed elementary proficiency in administering and scoring the tests of the battery, we had a daily continuing case seminar on interpretation for quite some months. In the early part of that seminar, each of us would give the same patient a different test and report on it. First, however, he would begin the interpretive process by considering the bare demographic data we had, using just them to produce hypotheses on a variety of issues. Under his tutelage, we'd go over every comment by the patient from our verbatim protocols, often taking more than an hour to get through a single test. He always quizzed us on what we had seen and heard, not just the test: how the patient presented himself (these were all VA in-patients, hence males), his emotional expressiveness, his social ease or lack of it, his body language and gestures while giving test responses, so that we learned that we had to notice all of that since we were going to be quizzed on it. Each test's results provided several kinds of data: behavioral observations, the verbalization of responses, their content treated like any thematic data, and finally the scores and their pattern. We learned that testing was an exercise in scientific method: framing hypotheses from one source of data and testing them by another. A great learning experience; even those who had been giving diagnostic tests for years grudgingly admitted that they were learning a great deal that no other supervisor had ever considered.

We also learned by teaching: David Rapaport threw us into the role of supervisors for the first crop of students in the Menninger School of Clinical Psychology after a bare six months of on-the-job learning! Remember, he was not only demanding, a harsh taskmaster, but very supportive: confident that we could do what we feared we weren't ready for, always there to back us up and help us out of any hole.

Meanwhile, Louisa was experiencing a slightly different but equally valuable kind of mentoring. Immediately spotting her unusual talent, he made her a full member of the Research Department of the Menninger Clinic (it became Foundation much later). That meant attending weekly department meetings where she got to know the others people like G.S. Klein, M. Brenman, S.K. Escalona, M.M. Gill, and P. Bergman and their projects. Hers was an ambitious attempt to integrate Talcott Parsons' style of sociology and Freudian psychoanalysis, and David Rapaport was genuinely interested in it, met with her alone weekly for an hour as he did with each member of the group. Under his guidance and support, she finished it a few years later and got her Ph.D.

After I had been on the job a couple of years, David Rapaport asked me to come work with him on the Selection Project, half time. He was hiring Les Luborsky, but said that he would look to me to take the leadership even though Les was coming in on ostensibly the same level. That was the one serious error in research administration I remember his making; it greatly complicated my relationship with Lester Luborsky, until after a year or so I confessed to him what had happened. (Obviously I was not able to carry out the role David Rapaport assigned me, to take the lead so subtly that Les wouldn't notice!)

David and I became close friends, though it was always an asymmetrical relationship: he wasn't much the older, but acted and felt like a father to me, going out of his way again and again to give me opportunities, open doors for me, thrust me forward as "his boy," someone he spotted as a comer. Thus, he got me into the Psychoanalytic Society; on Division 12 committees; introduced me to Erikson, even to Eysenck. That was at an APA meeting; walking together down a hall, he spotted Eysenck at a pay-phone and interrupted him to present me! Later, he introduced me to Kris (though he commented to me privately afterwards, when I expressed thanks to meet such a distinguished figure, that he was really a "four-flusher." He even offered me co-authorship of his big 1959 monograph for Koch (The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory) though I had merely read and commented on all of its drafts, correcting his English and raising questions. For years he read and commented on every draft of every paper I wrote, sometimes quite mercilessly declaring something basically wrongheaded and saying I had to start over. Later, after my anger and humiliation subsided, I would realize he was right. He advised me on my personal problems, too, & supported me thru crises: e.g., he helped me find an analyst in New York City, sending me to his friends Kurt Eissler and Edith Jacobson.

In 1948, he left Topeka at Bob Knight's request to go to Stockbridge and join the new staff of the Austen Riggs Center. It was a great loss to me as well as to others, but that was helped by an intensive correspondence for his remaining years. He kept close watch over the Selection Project, which he & Karl A. Mennnger had jointly conceived and started.

David had, I thought, wonderful judgment and the ability to size up a person quickly and in depth. Yet he had some blind spots along with his great eye for talent. After he had been in Stockbridge several years, a man who had come to Menninger's from Europe as one of his protégés, Ben Rubinstein, decided to leave Topeka after completing his psychoanalytic training. David wanted him to come to Riggs, but Beni decided to go into private practice in New York City, where his wife Dinah longed to be. David perhaps felt hurt that the offer he had gotten for Benjamin Rubinstein was rejected, and he commented to me: "Never help a weakling." That was about the worst error in sizing up another person he ever made.

During his years at Riggs, I visited him here many times. We'd talk endlessly, often while taking walks or even picking berries together. I got to know Elvira and the girls better, and was struck by his emotional dependence on his somewhat bristling wife (Mommy, he'd often call her; it sounded more like Marmie). And then when, the year before his death, he took a sabbatical from Riggs while George took his from New York University, he moved into the office right next to mine in the little former hat-band factory on the corner of Washington Place & Greene Street. It was then that he told me about his break in relationship with many friends, even Margaret & Bill Gibson, and his loneliness. How could I not have responded as I did, by accepting the challenge to put up with such faults as he had, and be the faithful friend who would always stick by him? Of course I wasn't the only one, but I had the advantage of being right there. It certainly deepened our friendship and strengthened the emotional tie between us.


Holt R.R. (1960). David Rapaport: a memoir (September 30, 1911 - December 14, 1960). In: Holt R.R., editor, Motives and Thought: Psychoanalytic Essays in Honor of David Rapaport (Psychological Issues, Monograph 18/19). New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1967, pp. 7-17.

Rapaport D. (1959). The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory: A Systematizing Attempt. In S. Koch, editor, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Study 1: Conceptual and Systematic. Vol.3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 55-183. Also in: Psychological Issues, 2, Monograph 6. New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1960.

Rapaport D., Gill M.M. & Schafer R. (1945-1946). Diagnostic Psychological Testing. Chicago: Yearbook Publishers (revised edition by R.R. Holt: New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1968).
Robert R. Holt, Ph.D.
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