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Martin Shepherd, Sag Harbor physician, psychoanalyst, publisher, dies at 86

Martin Shepard, a psychoanalyst, author, and publisher, died

Martin Shepard, a psychoanalyst, author, and publisher, died at his home in Sag Harbor last month. Credit: Permanent Press

A rebel with a cause is one way to describe Dr. Martin Shepard, who campaigned against the Vietnam War and Lyndon B. Johnson’s reelection, before becoming a doctor and then a psychoanalyst.

That is far from all: the doctor and his wife, a former off-Broadway actor, then transformed into independent publishers of books that matter — though not ones the establishment might wish to read let alone see in print, his widow said.

"I think Marty had a lot of different talents and finally settled on the one thing that really was important to him, and that was writing," said his widow Judith Shepard, of Sag Harbor, by telephone.

And he wanted to empower his patients to make good on their sessions, she said.

"He felt many people were analyzed but didn’t do anything about it. They never changed." Countering that inertia, he wrote a do-it-yourself psychiatry book with homework assignments at the end of each chapter, she explained, so "they weren’t just analyzed, they would do something about it."

That activism clearly was a vital part of his nature. Said his widow: "When I hear what some people are saying about him, friends or authors, they say he was larger than life. He was a very dynamic person, very energetic, very committed to publishing," his widow said. "He believed in truth and honesty and that people were sometimes afraid to be truthful or ashamed of being truthful." As a result, "he was always confrontational."

That candor and courage — and a touch of humor — were hallmarks of Shepard’s character.

"He wrote a very scandalous book, 'Confessions of a Defrocked Psychoanalyst about the Human Potential Movement' and his exploration of it," said his widow.

"The Psychiatric Association said that if this was true, he should have his license taken away. If it was not true, he had held his profession up to ridicule" and should lose his license for that, his widow recalled.

The Human Potential Movement of the 1960s aimed to bring forth the sleeping strengths and talents that everyone has through study and practice.

Shepard's license to practice was indeed yanked; but he got it back and went on to write and publish a total of 10 books, including the self-help treatise, called "Do-It-Yourself Psychotherapy," which also did not endear him to all of his colleagues, she said.

Other books included one partly inspired by his experiences with his father, "Dying: A Guide for Helping and Coping," which sought to deal honestly with one of the toughest of subjects.

One fictional book, "The Love Treatment: Sexual Intimacy Between Patients and Psychotherapists," also displeased some in his profession.

Cancer claimed Shepard's life at 86 on Dec. 17 at his home in Sag Harbor, where the couple’s two publishing houses are based: The Permanent Press, which keeps books in print, and Second Chance Press, which republishes books that have gone out of print.

Shepard grew up in Queens. A saxophone player, he went to the High School of Music of Art in Manhattan, according to a friend, Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at SUNY College at Old Westbury. The Shepards published Grossman’s "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power" when mainstream publishers all flinched.

The doctor graduated from New York University and worked at NYU-Bellevue Medical School, doing his residency in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital and analytical training at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology, according to Grossman.

Shepard worked as a consulting psychiatrist for the New York City Department of Corrections and the city’s Board of Education, Grossman said.

Judith Kercheval, who became a drama therapist, met her future husband in the elevator of the building on West 96th Street in Manhattan where she lived and he had an office. They married five months later, a union that endured 48 years and saw them raise five children from their previous marriages.

Her husband was a dedicated independent publisher though he enjoyed writing his own books. "He liked trying to publish books that maybe somebody else wouldn’t publish and seeing if he could get them a lot of attention. He liked that better than trying to promote himself."

Thanks to Shepard, Grossman’s book, with a new introduction, can be downloaded online — for free. This, said the author, "shows the importance of an independent press — and the consciences of Marty and Judy" who believed valuable books should always be available.

Shepard’s survivors include his sons, Marc of Seattle and Richard of Atlanta; his widow's sons, Aaron of Bloomington, Indiana, and Caleb of Sag Harbor, and her daughter Liza of Glen Rock, New Jersey; and 10 grandchildren.

A private memorial service may be held later.

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