Julian Meltzoff dies; designed PTSD treatment

By CHRISTINE HUARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: January 4, 2016

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Treating battle-weary World War II soldiers as they fought their way toward Germany prepared Julian Meltzoff for a life in clinical psychology that would help scores of American veterans cope with the trauma inflicted by the conflicts that followed.

Therapeutic programs researched and developed after the war at the VA outpatient clinic in Brooklyn by the former Army staff sergeant, who served three years on the front lines in the 102nd Infantry Division, would lead to talk therapy being established as the national model for treating veterans with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Mr. Meltzoff, a clinical and academic psychologist who was also a noted author of three influential books, died of natural causes Dec. 22 at home in La Jolla. He was 94.

Julian Meltzoff was born Feb. 16, 1921, in New York City, the youngest of three children to Nathan Meltzoff and Sadie Marcus Meltzoff. A 1941 graduate of the City College of New York, he entered the Army the following year to serve on the battlefront before being assigned to a specialized training program at the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a master’s degree in psychology.

Returning home, he was named a staff psychologist and then the supervisor of training at the VA Regional Office Mental Hygiene Clinic in Philadelphia. In 1950, he earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He continued to rise professionally, going on to serve as chief psychologist at the Philadelphia VA Hospital from 1953 to 1954, and chief of the psychology section at the VA Outpatient Clinic at the Brooklyn veterans hospital from 1954 to 1977.

It was during this time that he designed and tested a day treatment program for veterans, which he wrote about in the 1966 book “Day Treatment Center: Principles, Application, and Evaluation,” considered a classic in the field of clinical psychology. The seminal “Research in Psychotherapy,” a review of talk therapy as a proven treatment model, followed in 1970. And in 1997, he wrote “Critical Thinking About Research: Psychology and Related Fields,” an internationally recognized text that is used as a standard in graduate school training in clinical psychology.

After retiring from the VA in 1977, he moved to La Jolla the following year and took up a second career teaching. He was a professor and director of research at the California School for Professional Psychology, which he helped to obtain national accreditation. Though he continued to write and contribute research articles in scientific journals for the rest of his life, he left academia in 1997 for an altogether different third act as a sculptor who focused on the human form in motion. His work “Body in Motion,” a bronze piece showing the successive positions of a woman doing sit ups, was on the cover of the December 2014 edition of American Psychologist.

Using his knowledge of science and art, Mr. Melzoff examined incorrect body poses depicted in art throughout history in the article “Errors in the Making and Perception of Art Images of Human Gait: Psychological Explanations,” published in the the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts in 2014.

He and the former Judith Novikoff were married 26 years before divorcing.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Antonia; a son, Andrew of Seattle; a daughter, Nancy Meltzoff of Eugene, Ore.; a stepdaughter, Jessica Strand of Brooklyn; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Services are pending. The family suggests donation to Scripps Green Hospital.


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