In Memoriam: Bertram J. Cohler, 1938-2012

Bertram J. Cohler, PhD, longtime member of Division 39 and former editor of Psychoanalytic Psychology, died May 9, 2012. Read his obituary in the Chicago Tribune.

Tribute to Bert

Bertram J. Cohler, PhDMy dear friend and colleague Bert Cohler was the William Rainey Harper Professor of Social Sciences in the College of the University of Chicago and held professorial posts in other departments in the university. He introduced hundreds of undergraduates to psychoanalysis each year in the university’s legendary social science course. He was a brilliant researcher on life course development and most recently contributed to the life course study of gay, lesbian and transgendered people. He graduated from the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis where he continued to teach until his final illness. He worked with patients throughout his professional life.

Bert apparently successfully had been treated for esophageal cancer but developed aspiration pneumonia, complications from which he died.

Bert was a passionate advocate for what he saw as right. His advocacy for mental health services for poor children, his struggle against homophobia, his love of effective teaching, and his impassioned commitment to intellectual rigor showed themselves in work and clear thinking. His was the quiet but persistent voice of the intellect. He seemed always to keep in mind the quotation with which he signed his emails, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” (Dante, The Inferno)

Bert did separate his professional and personal lives. His love and respect for people led him to use tools ranging from empirical research to deep examination of his own struggles to explore how individuals, in all sorts of contexts, “search after meaning” across the course of life. Whether talking with a troubled child, a research colleague, or one of his huge number of adoring students, Bert’s ever ready willingness to learn and teach, to recognize the value of another’s world, made him a superb partner in growth-creating conversations. Bert leaves behind not only a massive scholarly accomplishment but also an ideal of compassionate comprehension in the study of human lives.

Bert was sweet, gentle, loving and brilliant. Our community has lost someone who epitomized the spirit of psychoanalytic inquiry and a beloved friend.

– Robert M. Galatzer-Levy, MD