Norman Kreitman

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 21 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1462
  1. Ned Stafford, freelance journalist, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Psychiatrist and suicide expert, poet, philosopher

“The shadow of a leaf falls upon the page

and as the breeze moves the shape skitters

as if writing my notes.

Yes I am listening, really,

although what I hear matters much less

than what you say . . .”

Those words came from the heart of a poet named Norman Kreitman. The words are the opening lines of his 1984 poem “Therapist.”1 At the time, although a poet at heart, Kreitman was professionally a psychiatrist at the University of Edinburgh—recognised globally for his work in suicide, alcoholism, and depression. The poem reflects what Kreitman the psychiatrist felt was one of his most important tools.

“Norman’s recognition of the importance of listening skills in research and therapeutic encounters was captured in those lines of the poem,” says Stephen Platt, who worked with Kreitman in the late 1970s and 1980s. “He was a man without a trace of narcissism or egotism. He was genuinely interested in how others experienced the world, and wanted to give them time to articulate these experiences rather than put words …

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