Richard Fisch

(1926-2011), psychiatrist, he has practiced in Palo Alto since 1958

(1926- 2011), psychiatrist, he has practiced in Palo Alto since 1958 after making the specialty in the Hospital where Harry Stack Sullivan had made his first works. Fish appreciates the years he studied at the Institute of Science Bronx, New York (“I learned to learn“) and Colby College in Maine, where he fell in love with anthropology. Fisch studied medicine at the School of Medicine in New York and was introduced into family therapy through courses conducted in 1960 by Virginia Satir at the Mental Research Institute. He has been director of the Brief Therapy Center in Palo Alto, of which he was one of the founders in 1966.

Marcelo Ceberio: He told me how the information that accompanies a patient is generally reified in the various passages from one Mental Health Structure to another. For example, the papers that accompany a psychotic are long and tedious paperwork that get often signed without thorough reading by the treatment staff. Fish once saw an “arsonist” boy who had tried to set fire to his sister. The boy, who had a long history of hospitalizations, had this diagnosis although, upon further investigation, Fish realized that the problem dated back about 14 years earlier. The event had happened when he was 6 or 7 years old. At that time he had twice approached his sister and tried to light some matches near her, in a dangerous situation. Afterwards he never did it again. In every place where he was hospitalized every professional had signed and endorsed the previous diagnosis without questioning it. “The label is a sentence,” Fish argued: “The boy’s diagnosis was absolutely wrong and he was the victim of a self-determining prophecy.
There is a sort of collusion among professionals, Fish argued. Even when there is a person in a family with a problem, if the problem and the person are labeled as sick, this label remains over time and is difficult to break down.

Umberta Telfener: My colleague Rose Galante, director of the Center for Relational Psychotherapy of Catania, Sicily, once told me that Dick had taught her to never be the same twice. No recipes, just the ability to respond to each person one encounters with the most instinctive and open reaction. She told me he made it sound simple but it was a real challenge. A project for a lifetime.

Mauro Mariotti: Of Richard Fish, called Dick, director in turn, I remember the sessions, his hunger for dark dark chocolate and his sagacity with the students, whose rhetorical questions he could not tolerate. He gently teased them with phrases like: “And the next question will come from…”, naming a small town near Princeton University… as if to say… get busy, ask real questions, not questions that revolve around the significant core. It reminded me of my father who, to make fun of my grandmother who always knew everything about everything, would politely say to her: “Ma’am, but you studied in Camerino!” at the time known for being a University not as prominent as the Normale of Pisa.
John and Dick’s book, Change, co-written with Lynn Segal, was and remains a must-read for all of us.

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