Leon Salzman, 93

Studied Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Leon Salzman wrote the first comprehensive work on the causes and treatment of the disorder.
Leon Salzman wrote the first comprehensive work on the causes and treatment of the disorder. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009

Leon Salzman, 93, a psychoanalyst who wrote the first comprehensive work on the causes and treatment of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, died Feb. 28 at his home in Bethesda of complications from a stroke.

Dr. Salzman had a long-running private practice in psychiatry and psychoanalysis in Washington and was on the faculty of Georgetown University for more than 30 years. Two of his books, "The Obsessive Personality" (1968) and "Treatment of the Obsessive Personality" (1980), have become standard texts.

He was a member of federal appeals Judge David L. Bazelon's project on law and psychiatry, which developed the standard legal definition of insanity. Dr. Salzman also spoke regularly about the intersection of religious faith and psychiatry and was a consultant to the Holy See.

Dr. Salzman, who wrote four books, many chapters in other books and more than 30 journal articles, also made frequent appearances in the popular press, helping struggling reporters convey psychological concepts in everyday language.

Workaholics, he once told the Newhouse News Service, "work to overcome anxiety rather than to achieve a particular goal; his life is empty without assigned tasks."

Nor is being on time always a healthy trait. "It can be a compulsive behavior, a kind of ritualistic performance that helps you feel secure and like you've got control of your life," he told The Washington Post. "People who are always on time view it as a measure of their worthwhileness, their status depends on perfectionism."

If one's world isn't full of time-centric workaholics, there's always another danger. Dr. Salzman told Time magazine in 1987 that "obsessive behavior is widespread among executives," verifying the suspicions of many in the nonexecutive workforce.

Born July 10, 1915, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Leon Salzman was the youngest of 11 children. He attended the City College of New York, graduating in 1935, and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1940. From 1941 to 1943, he served in the U.S. Public Health Service, based in Washington.

Dr. Salzman continued his training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis at the Washington School of Psychiatry, the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute and the William A. White Institute, where he became a student of psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan's, who advocated direct observation of behavior instead of more abstract theories.

Sullivan's perspective was influential when Dr. Salzman wrote "The Obsessive Personality," which shifted the focus of the study of obsession toward a broader view of how those with that personality type saw the world. He considered the disorder a result of a patient's failure in relationships, the need for control and frustration with his inability to be all-knowing. A reviewer for the Archives of General Psychiatry called it "a most engaging and instructive book."

In addition to his work at Georgetown, Dr. Salzman had appointments to the faculty of George Washington University, Catholic University and the Washington School of Psychiatry and was on the faculty of several medical schools, including Tulane, Yeshiva and Columbia universities. He was a fellow and past president of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. He was a life fellow at the American Psychiatric Association and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

His wife of 45 years, Ann Bailin Rusinow Salzman, died in 1995.

Survivors include four daughters, Dr. Carol Salzman and Susan Braverman, both of Bethesda, Terry Rusinow of Portland, Ore., and Sara Salzman of Kerrville, Tex.; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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