Morris Nitsun obituary

Other lives: Consultant psychologist, psychotherapist and group analyst who worked in the NHS for 50 years and was a practising artist

My friend Dr Morris Nitsun, who has died aged 79, was a consultant psychologist, psychotherapist and group analyst who worked in the NHS for 50 years. He was also a gifted artist.

Born in Worcester, a small, remote town in the Western Cape, South Africa, Morris was the youngest of three children of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. His father, Joseph Nitsun, was a businessman who had lost family in the Holocaust, and his mother, Bessie (nee Joffie), a housewife, had escaped the frozen wastes of Siberia, where her family lived as political exiles.

After King David school in Johannesburg, Morris studied psychology at Wits University where he obtained a PhD. He won the South African artist of fame and promise competition in 1966. Moving to the UK in 1968 to escape the constraints of apartheid, he worked in the NHS as a psychologist and, in 1973, became head of the psychology department at Goodmayes hospital in Redbridge, east London, and later a consultant at Camden and Islington trust. He ran groups in private practice and painted until the end of his life.

Iona, evening
Iona, evening. Illustration: Morris Nitsun

Morris studied art part-time (1969-72) at St Martin’s and Central School of Art, and exhibited his paintings in various galleries. He also trained as a group analyst at the Institute of Group Analysis, graduating in 1990, and, in 1996, made a major contribution to group analytic theory with the publication of The Anti-Group: Destructive Forces in the Group and Their Creative Potential, which challenged the pervading idealisation of groups. The Anti-Group and his later book The Group As an Object of Desire (2006) are used for group analytic training worldwide.

Girl washing, Varanasi
Girl washing, Varanasi. Illustration: Morris Nitsun

In 2015 he was awarded the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists award for services to mental health. A turning point came in 2019 when Morris exhibited a series of doll paintings, inviting people to share their thoughts about the pictures. The dolls opened up an understanding of his relationship with his mother and his early childhood. He spoke to the groups about his guilt at being a privileged white child in South Africa, and about the difficulty of being gay in an Orthodox Jewish home and a society riddled with prejudice and discrimination.

Morris lived a full life, with his love of work, deep friendships, travelling, art galleries, films and good food. But during lockdown he had become increasingly anxious about the isolation and the spectre of illness. He had to be careful because he had pulmonary fibrosis, which damages lung tissue.

He died three weeks before the pinnacle of his achievement: a book launch and art exhibition where he had integrated the two sides of himself, the artist and psychotherapist. The culmination of his creative outburst during the pandemic, A Psychotherapist Paints, showcases 50 of his paintings, interspersed with autobiographical reflections.

His partner, Tony Fagin, whom he met at a party in London in 1979, died four weeks after Morris’s death. Morris is survived by his brother, Leon, and a niece and four nephews. His sister, Shirley, predeceased him in 2013.

Pam Kleinot

The GuardianTramp

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