Elaine Karp-Gelernter, psychologist

Elaine Karp-Gelernter
Elaine Karp-Gelernter (Baltimore Sun)

Elaine Karp-Gelernter, a retired Veterans Affairs psychologist who was also a textile artist, died of complications from pneumonia March 20 at Sinai Hospital. The Mount Washington resident was 78.

She was the daughter of Polish immigrants who ran a custom-tailored bridal shop in New York City. She grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Brooklyn College.


In 1952, she married Steve Karp, a psychologist.

She and her family moved to Mount Washington in 1964. She taught part time at a nursery school affiliated with the Jewish Community Center while she raised her children.


"She was a natural educator and taught us to read and to swim before we started elementary school," said her daughter, Abby Karp, a high school math teacher in Greensboro, N.C.

When her youngest child went off to school, Dr. Karp-Gelernter began her studies at George Washington University to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology, which she received in 1973. She had earlier joined the staff of the old Loch Raven Veterans Administration Hospital as a post-internship fellow. She collaborated professionally at the Veterans Affairs' hospitals at Fort Howard and Perry Point.

Dr. Karp-Gelernter was a founder of the clinical psychology internship program at the Veterans Hospital and directed the clinical training of psychology interns for many years.She remained at the hospital after it moved to downtown Baltimore, and she retired in 2003. After retirement, she maintained a private practice.

Her daughter said she was involved in the early development of the diagnosis and treatment of what was later defined as post-traumatic stress disorder. The disorder was then a newly recognized issue and not well-defined medically.

"She realized that what they were going through was something more than a little shell shock," her daughter said.

"She was a highly regarded staff member and one of the chief organizers of our doctoral internships in clinical psychology," said a colleague, William Canter, a Lutherville resident who is a Veterans Affairs psychologist. "She was at the forefront of integration of the program with the University of Maryland medical school."

He recalled her as a "wise, unpretentious, disarmingly down-to-earth woman who had an Old World sense of intuition about people."

He called her a wonderful colleague who was supportive and collegial. "She was extremely thoughtful and a caring person who went out of her way to help," Dr. Canter said.

Family members said she embraced mentoring the many young psychologists who spent a formative year of professional practice in the program.

"She was a passionate advocate for the veterans in her care, including the blind, the geriatric and those with brain injuries," her daughter said.

Her daughter said her mother's exposure to sewing and fashion through her family's bridal shop "sparked a lifelong interest in color and design." Her aunt and uncle also had a bridal shop; the family competed in a friendly way, and Dr. Karp-Gelernter became thoroughly immersed in the trade.

In the 1980s, Dr. Karp-Gelernter began weaving and went on to became an enthusiastic quilter. Her daughter said she began by making traditional patterns, but her creative energy directed her toward nontraditional and crazy-quilt patterns.


"Her work was characterized by vivid color and bold designs," her daughter said, adding that she delighted in creating quilts to give family and friends to celebrate weddings and births.

Her works were featured last month at an art exhibition called "Text Styles" at Greensboro College in North Carolina. She worked with fellow fabric artist Karen Dresser on the show about women in the Old Testament.

"My mother was once a shy woman who married young," her daughter said. "But she blossomed over the years and made herself a psychologist, a mentor to others and a creative artist."

A private life celebration will be held April 21.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Henry Karp of Silver Spring; another daughter, Julie Karp of Baltimore; and two grandchildren. Her marriage to Mr. Karp ended in divorce.

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