Zetzel-Rosenberg, Elizabeth (1907-1970)

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Elizabeth Zetzel-Rosenberg, psychoanalyst and physician, was born March 17, 1907, in New York and died November 22, 1970, in Scarsdale, New York. Her father, James N. Rosenberg, was a distinguished jurist and philanthropist, who led a United States committee for the passage of the Genocide Convention at the United Nations after World War II. After graduating from Smith College, Zetzel pursued her medical education at the University of London. She began her analytic training in the 1930s at the British Psychoanalytic Society where her analyst was Ernest Jones.

In a short memoir describing the years between 1936 and 1938, Zetzel (1969) recalled with pleasure her exposure to the work of Melanie Klein and her followers, Joan Riviere and Susan Isaacs. She credits Donald Winnicott, however, with most influencing her subsequent work because he was "fully alive to the importance of the real mother-child relationship . . . My first awareness of the importance of early object relations was attributable to my opportunity to work in his Clinic at Paddington Green Hospital."

Zetzel returned to the United States in 1949 and became a leading member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society, where she was an influential training analyst and teacher; she was also secretary of the International Psychoanalytic Association under the presidency of Maxwell Gitelson from 1961 to 1965 (Rangell, 1971). Zetzel was a prolific writer and her collected papers (1970) include contributions to psychoanalytic techniqueher name is practically synonymous with the term "therapeutic alliance"and to the psychodynamics of hysteria and depression as delineated in her seminal papers "On the Incapacity to Bear Depression" and "The So-Called Good Hysteric." But equally important as her original contributions to the psychoanalytic literature was her sympathetic interest in the work of Melanie Klein. In an astute and generous obituary written after Klein's death, Zetzel (1961) decried the fact that many contemporary analysts still remained unfamiliar with Klein's work. At the same time, Zetzel was deeply skeptical of the theoretical reconstructions that Klein posited in her writings. She also chided Klein and her followers for failing to acknowledge the work of other analysts, notably Anna Freud, Willi Hoffer, Rene Spitz, Phyllis Green-acre, and Ernst Kris, whose findings on early psychic development were convergent with their discoveries.

Zetzel's advocacy of Klein's work had significant implications for the development of psychoanalytic theory in the United States. Conventionally, psychoanalytic theory in America in the 1950s is portrayed as dominated by the variant of theory called ego psychology. But Zetzel's writings on Klein and her followers, and her extended contacts with other analysts interested in preoedipal development, notably Edith Jacobson and Phyllis Greenacre, suggest a more fluid and complex state of affairs. In other words, among a group of influential psychoanalytic thinkers, there was a sophisticated awareness of Klein's work and a recognition that her clinical discoveries should be considered in their own work.

Nellie L. Thompson


Rangell, Leo. (1971). Elizabeth R. Zetzel. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52, 229-231.

Thompson, Nellie. (2001). American women psychoanalysts 1911-1941. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 29, 161-177.

Zetzel, Elizabeth. (1961). Melanie Klein 1882-1960. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 30, 420-425.

. (1969). 96 Gloucester Place: Some personal recollections. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 50,717-719.

. (1970). The capacity for emotional growth. New York: International Universities Press.