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Martin Cooperman

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Berkshire Eagle Staff

STOCKBRIDGE -- Dr. Martin Cooperman, a pioneering psychoanalyst who played a guiding role at Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge for nearly two decades, died Thursday at Berkshire Medical Center. He was 91.

Although he had battled Alzheimer's disease for several years, Cooperman was in good physical health until Thursday, when he slipped on a curb in Lee, hit his head and suffered a head injury, according to his son, Alan Cooperman.

He was taken to Berkshire Medical Center, but never regained consciousness.

Cooperman, who was married to Leona Ruth Cooperman and who lived at 1 Bean Hill Road in Stockbridge, began working in 1968 at Austen Riggs Center as clinical director, and later became associate medical director of the private psychiatric hospital. He retired in 1986.

During his tenure there, he worked closely with Erik Erikson and other leaders in psychoanalysis. Though his primary work was as a clinician, not as a theoretician, Cooperman pioneered several concepts in psychoanalysis.

Dr. Gerard Fromm, director of the Erik Erikson Institute for Education and Research at Riggs, arrived at the hospital in the mid-1970s; Cooperman was his supervisor.

"He was an absolutely wonderful teacher and mentor to a lot of us over the years," Fromm said. "He knew that [patients'] struggles were life and death matters, and that when people are hurt, their first response is to hurt back.

"What made him good was that he was exquisitely focused on the relationship between the patient and therapist, and he knew that what the patient was trying to convey was often hard to understand," Fromm recalled.

Former Navy physician

In his earlier life, Cooperman was a retired Navy captain who survived the sinking of a U.S. aircraft carrier during World War II.

Originally an internist and Navy flight surgeon, he worked with pilots, blimp crews and sea divers.

In a 20-year Navy physician career, he served in posts from the torpedo station in Newport, R.I., to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He was a flight surgeon aboard the carrier USS Wasp when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine at sea in 1942, the first major U.S. loss in the war after Pearl Harbor.

After the order to abandon ship was given, he tended to the wounded and helped them into life rafts, then jumped into the water himself and swam through burning oil to another raft.

He was rescued after eight hours at sea and was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds, particularly burns to his hands.

From 1953 to 1955, he served on the Navy Clemency Board, the service's highest appellate body.

He later moved into psychiatry and, eventually, psychoanalysis, working at three of the nation's leading hospitals.

In the mid-1950s, he was chief psychiatrist at the Navy Department's dispensary in Washington and assistant chief of neuropsychiatry at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After his Navy retirement in 1958, Cooperman began a second career as a psychoanalyst.

From 1958 to 1968, he was a senior psychiatrist and clinical director of Chestnut Lodge, a private psychiatric hospital in Rockville, Md.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept 21, 1914 to Harry and Mollie Steinberg Cooperman, Jewish immigrants from what is now western Ukraine, his first language was Yiddish. He learned English when he entered public schools and quickly skipped two grades, entering the University of Pennsylvania at 16. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1938.

In 1979, he wrote a medical journal article on "defeating processes," defining the dynamic in which patients, and sometimes doctors, can sabotage their progress to demonstrate their need for each other.

His articles were published not only in American medical journals, but also in French journals. He studied at the Washington School of Psychiatry and the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. His primary focus was caring for seriously ill, often schizophrenic, patients in a hospital setting.

During the 1980s, he was an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and a life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Active in local affairs

In Stockbridge, he served as an elected member of the town's Planning Board in the 1980s and was active in civic affairs, helping to protect the traditional character of Stockbridge's Main Street.

He was also a past president of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield and a past vice president of Berkshire Medical Society.

He and his wife, a retired occupational therapist, were married 53 years.

Besides his wife, he leaves two daughters, Barbara Joyce Cooperman of New York City and Sue Cooperman Cox of Murrysville, Pa.; a son, Alan Cooperman of Washington, D.C., and four grandchildren.

FUNERAL NOTICE -- The funeral for Dr. Martin Cooperman, 91, who died Feb. 2, 2006, will be Sunday at 1 at Temple Anshe Amunim, 26 Broad St., Pittsfield, with Rabbi Emeritus Harold Salzmann, officiating. Burial will follow in Stockbridge Cemetery. The family will receive friends during Shiva at the family home, 1 Bean Hill, Stockbridge, on Monday and Tuesday from 2 until 6 p.m. Donations in his memory may be made to the Alzheimer's Association or to the Martin Cooperman Memorial Fund at Austen Riggs Center in care of DEVANNY-CONDRON FUNERAL HOME, 40 Maplewood Ave., Pittsfield, MA 01201. He is also lovingly survived by his grandchildren, Hannah Michelle Cox, David George Cox, Marshall Pieter Cooperman and Thomas Craig Cooperman; his daughter-in-law, Martina Vandenberg, and his son-in-law, Jeff Cox.

Published in The Berkshire Eagle on Feb. 4, 2006
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