Dear fellow ESTD members,
We lost a giant this Spring. Giovanni Liotti suffered a serious stroke in 2017 but was steadily recovering; he suddenly died in early April. He was a major figure whose profound influence spanned a number of fields – attachment, dissociation and psychotherapy – to name only a few. A man not only of great creativity and intelligence, but also compassion, Giovanni Liotti was appreciated throughout the world; but his influence in Italy – through his teaching, writing, presentations and support of innovative research – was monumental. Our Italian colleagues remain distraught over his loss, and the void that it has created.
I first learned of Giovanni’s work about 12 years ago, as I was planning the first edition of our book, Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation, with Martin Dorahy and Ingo Schäfer. Since a main goal of the book was to build bridges between the domains of psychosis and trauma/dissociation, we were looking for authors who had not worked together before, but who had expertise in the same area for each set of disorders. I knew Andrew Gumley of Glasgow, an expert in attachment and psychosis (and also psychotherapy), and decided to ask Giovanni Liotti if he would be willing to join Andrew in taking an attachment perspective on dissociation and psychosis. He readily agreed, and the resulting chapter – An attachment perspective on schizophrenia: The role of disorganized attachment, dissociation and mentalization – was one of the highlights of the 1st edition (and will no doubt remain so for the 2nd edition). Andrew has told me that his work with Giovanni was immensely rewarding, and that he felt great ‘encouragement, support, kindness and patience’ from him.
I first met Giovanni in 2008, when he was presenting in the 1st ESTD conference in Amsterdam. I recall him sitting with my wife and me on a conference-sponsored boat trip. My vivid first impression was of a charming, kind and profoundly curious man, who kept his ego well-checked. I don’t recall what we talked about but do recall how pleasant we both found his company.
We had other encounters over the years – at the ESTD Copenhagen conference in 2014 and in Naples in 2015 at a dissociation event --- but what I remember most clearly is a dinner we shared in Spain some years ago. We were presenters on adjoining days at a conference, and I arrived the evening of his talk; we went to dinner at the usual time for Spain, I recall – around 9:30 p.m.!
Some of you may recall the unique 1981 movie ‘My dinner with André’. The entire film takes place at a small table in a restaurant and consists of a conversation between André Gregory and Wallace Shawn – both real Andrew Moskowitz ESTD President Dear fellow ESTD members, 3 ESTD Newsletter Volume 7 Number 2, June 2018 4 Dear fellow ESTD members, film/theatre people playing some version of themselves. One cannot imagine how a two-hour film based on this idea could be entertaining, but it was more than that – it was enthralling. Listening to the stories André Gregory told, of his extraordinary travels around the world over the past 20 years (since leaving the theatre) and the people he met, along with Wallace Shawn’s rather nerdy and small world responses, keep one’s attention tightly focused throughout.
‘My dinner with Giovanni’ was very much like this. We talked a bit about family, but mostly I tried to learn from his extraordinary interdisciplinary knowledge – we spoke of evolution, immobility responses, disorganized attachment, psychotherapy – well, mostly I listened and asked questions. As always, he greatly helped clarify things for me.
And I was not the only one impressed by Giovanni. In the 1980s, John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, met him. In the introduction to his extraordinary paper on parent-child relations – On knowing what you are not supposed to know and seeing what you are not supposed to see – republished in the 1988 book, ‘A Secure Base’ (Bowlby, 1988), Bowlby relates the following story. He gave a talk based on this paper in Rome, where he met Giovanni Liotti and Vittorio Guidano. He reports being ‘surprised and delighted’ to find two ‘cognitive therapists’ who agreed with so many of his ideas – despite his being a psychoanalyst – and pleasantly noted how much he had ‘in common’ with them!
There are many bright individuals in our field, and talented clinicians. But Giovanni was a visionary – he saw things and made connections that no one else had; in a very real sense, he pointed the fields of dissociation, attachment and psychotherapy in completely new directions. Without him we might well have missed all these new and innovative connections. One cannot say this about too many people, but he is truly irreplaceable – and will be sorely missed…
From ESTD Newsletter Volume 7, Number 2, June 2018