Dennis J. Zeitlin, MD

Dennis Zeitlin, MD maintains a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco and Marin County, which includes individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, family therapy, psychopharmacology, and consultation.

Dennis Zeitlin, MD - biography

The Nature of the Work

I’ve been lucky that my fascination with psychiatry has only grown over the years. Even though there are common themes often shared by a number of patients, each person’s expression and experience is unique. It is a great privilege to be trusted with patients' innermost thoughts and feelings — to go with them on a collaborative therapeutic journey that encourages growth. I continue to evolve and learn as part of that process, and cannot imagine ever retiring.


Early Influences

My interest in psychiatry goes back to age 7, when I began to talk with my psychiatrist uncle about his work, and became completely fascinated. By third grade I was practicing without a license on the playground at recess. I think the kids sensed my genuine interest and desire to help, and they would talk with me about their lives. I soon became confident I would be involved in this work as a career.

My parents were encouraging. They were interested in psychology, and my mother had particularly astute interpersonal radar. I loved novels and short stories with psychological themes, particularly science fiction, took a lot of psychology courses as an undergraduate, and cemented my decision to become a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Jerome Frank was the head of the psychiatry department, and was my first mentor. His landmark book, Persuasion and Healing, demonstrated the cross-cultural commonalities involved in helping people to change psychologically, and throughout my training and career, I have found myself interested in psychotherapy integration — focusing on core elements in a wide range of psychotherapies.

Psychiatric Residency

My residency at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute at the University of California in San Francisco provided these broad opportunities, which I supplemented with seminars and workshops with some important founders of different schools of psychotherapy, like Fritz Perls ( Gestalt Therapy), Eric Berne (Transactional Analysis), and Virginia Satir (Conjoint Family Therapy).

Post-Residency Experience

I completed a personal psychoanalysis, and continued post-residency consultation with senior analysts and therapists throughout my career. I feel very fortunate to have had a weekly, individual mentorship for almost 30 years with Joseph Weiss, M.D., the founder of Control Mastery Theory—a humanistic, cognitive-relational-psychodynamic theory that has greatly informed my work with individuals, couples, and groups (two of my articles can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.) Since completing my residency in 1968, I have remained active on the teaching faculty at the University of California, San Francisco, where I am Clinical Professor of Psychiatry; taught courses for other institutions; presented at regional and national conferences; and maintained a full-time private practice of psychotherapy and consultation in San Francisco and Marin County.

Psychiatry and Music

The psychotherapeutic journey has commonalities with improvising music, which, as a jazz pianist and composer, has been another major passion. Empathy and communication are paramount in both, and I believe my most creative level of psychotherapy and musical expression occurs when I am able to trust that I will be able to bring to bear everything I have studied and learned while simultaneously allowing myself to be so immersed in the activity that I become “one” with it—to merge with the music, the musicians, or the patient and his psychological life. I’ve been fascinated with the nature and challenges of this merger state, and over the years have developed a lecture-demonstration “Unlocking the Creative Impulse: The Psychology of Improvisation,” which has been presented internationally. In my private practice I frequently see people who are experiencing creative blocks—not just in specific artistic pursuits, but in activities of everyday life.

The cross-pollination of music and psychiatry has greatly aided me in both fields. My musical activities have always remained subordinate to my primary responsibility to patients in my full-time practice and to trainees.

Please refer to Clinical Practice and Contact for more information.

Articles: (PDF Format)
1. Control-Mastery Theory in Couples Therapy
2. Control-Mastery Theory in Group Therapy
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