Renowned forensic psychiatrist Lawrence Z. Freedman, 1919-2004
An internationally recognized authority on the psychiatry of aggression, violence, crime and terrorism, and the interactions between psychiatry and the law, Lawrence Z. Freedman, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry, died at his home in Hyde Park on Wednesday, Oct. 6. He was 85.
Freedman was a pioneer in applying the tools of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to emerging social, legal, political and behavioral topics, ranging from natural childbirth and the impact of television on children to political assassinations and serial killers.
An authority on the relationship between mental illness and legal responsibility, he helped draft the Model Penal Code, adopted in 1962 by the American Law Institute. Later, as his interests turned to the psychiatry of political violence, he served on President Lyndon Johnson’s National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. At the request of the Secret Service, he developed a profile of potential presidential assassins.
“Lawrence Freedman was a theoretician with a bio-psycho-social approach, who brought a psychoanalytic understanding to political and social issues,” recalled Harry Trosman, Professor in Psychiatry. “He was also a friendly and helpful colleague with a kind of formal warmth. Although he was always very proper, he was a good listener who was interested in your ideas and would help you develop them, help you think about problems in a different way.”
Freedman developed his interest in studying violence when he served as a medical officer in the Navy during World War II, and while assigned to care for servicemen imprisoned in American barracks as well as German prisoners of war. “I was struck,” he recalled in a 1975 memoir, at how various forms of illness had “different rates of incidence and prevalence among men of significantly different backgrounds. Their personalities preceded their illness and explained those differences.”
Freedman earned his B.S. in 1940 and his M.D. in 1944 from Tufts University. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the United States Navy and the Navy Reserve Medical Corps, while beginning his residency training in psychiatry at Yale Medical School and the New Haven Hospital. He joined the Yale University faculty in 1949.
Freedman and Yale legal scholar Harold Lasswell collaborated and wrote extensively on law and insanity, and the role of the psychiatric expert witness. They co-authored the text Law, Conformity and Psychiatry.
In 1963, after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Freedman—having joined the Chicago faculty in 1961 as the Foundations Fund Research Professor in Psychiatry—began to study the personality and thought processes of assassins. He found that these criminals share several similarities—upbringing, a lack of self-esteem, social alienation, a search for acceptance, and a desire to overcome personal failure “by ascribing it to the social and political system.”
In the mid-1960s, he applied similar techniques to the study of serial killers. In the 1970s, he turned his interest to psychiatric aspects of the emerging threat of terrorism, as seen in inner-city gangs and militant nationalist movements abroad.
Terrorism remained a concern for Freedman, even after retirement. “He was horribly saddened by 9/11,” said his son, Thomas Freedman. “He had long worried that warfare between nation states was changing, and that ethnic and religious groups would turn to terrorism, a fear that has been confirmed.”
Freedman’s former wife Dorothy, a former teacher at the University’s Laboratory Schools, and their five children—Bart, Matthew, Joshua, Johanna and Thomas—survive him.
A University memorial service for Freedman, who was buried Sunday, Oct. 10, is being planned for the winter.