Dispatch 2: Saybrook U Origin Story, Part 1

Recently, our marketing team put together an incredible digital magazine titled UNBOUND, which went live a couple of weeks ago. I was honored to be able to contribute to this first edition, writing about the origins of Saybrook University. For purposes of my blog here, I thought I would re-post the content of my article in short segments, with links back to the main article.

Special thanks to our marketing team, Dr. Bob Flax for framing the origin story in the way he did (Saybrook is the child of three revolutions), and Dr. Carol Humphreys for her expert editorial assistance. 

For the full article, go to https://www.saybrook.edu/unbound/fourth-revolution/

I hope you enjoy it!

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Origin Story, Part 1

Over the course of several decades, the legend of a humanistic psychology institute, turned graduate research center, turned university, is a plot rich with interesting characters and various twists and turns.

What began as a small group of academic rebels seeking to change the face of higher education has now morphed into a small university finding its way once again in a sea of political and academic change. One thing has remained constant though—the university’s administration, faculty, staff, and students are intent on adhering to Saybrook University’s founding mission of promoting a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

Saybrook’s rebellious, progressive lineage is a product of the countercultural movement of the 1960s and is a child of three major revolutions—in psychology, research, and education (1).

I contend that we are now on the verge of a fourth revolution—eclipsing the classroom to bring Saybrook’s humanistic ideals and methods of teaching and learning forward in ways that will not only fundamentally transform the lives of our students, but also the clients they serve, the organizations of which they are a part, and the communities in which they live.

In this sense, we are UNBOUND.

A child of the psychology revolution

In the mid-1960s, a meeting was held in Old Saybrook, Connecticut with several notable psychologists in attendance (Eleanor Criswell, Rollo May, Clark Moustakas, Carl Rogers, and Charlotte Buehler among them). They shared ideas about the importance of consciousness, motivation, the client as the expert, human choice, and self-actualization. They proffered the idea that a new school or institute could be developed that focused on educating psychology practitioner-scholars about these principles, which came to be known as “humanistic psychology” (2).

These thought leaders envisioned a path forward that would challenge the existing psychology establishment, which tended to revolve around B.F. Skinner’s basic psychology as a core science (behavioral), and Freud’s psychodynamic approach concentrating specifically on human beings.

The Humanistic Psychology Institute (HPI) was thus conceived. Initially housed at Sonoma State University, the Institute’s first director, Dr. Eleanor Criswell, helped institutionalize and bring to life the vision of her notable colleagues. In 1971, HPI began to educate students that this third way, or force, was needed in the advancement of psychology to more deeply understand what it means to be human and to improve the human condition.

Humanistic Psychology and the Institute, which began promoting its principles through scholarship and practice, ultimately embodied several main concepts, including:  

  1. Human existence is central to understanding the human condition: The vast nature of everyone’s full human experience is related to each person’s unique purposes and functions. Everyone, therefore, has human choice and agency in their own path to fulfilling their potential, drawing on their truly distinctive existence.
  2. Our commonality is that of possessing unique traits: Human beings are—as far as we know—unique in our capacity for self-awareness and to establish in-depth relationships. Those who embrace humanistic approaches leverage these unique traits to live an optimal life.
  3. Human beings are best studied in our natural context: While studying behavior in the laboratory can be useful to control for certain variables, understanding human psychology in natural contexts helps us better understand the fullness of the human experience. The humanistic practitioner will often use research and therapeutic techniques that are real-world. Furthermore, qualitative research is often used and may include phenomenology or exploring the human experience. The point of view of the subject is honored and articulated.
  4. Human beings must be viewed in the fullness or wholeness of our humanity: A person’s full humanity cannot be reduced to an illness, a relationship, or a set of behaviors in exclusion of everything else that makes one human. Humanistic-oriented practitioners recognize a person is more than just a combination of interrelated parts; she is a complex organism with significant potential. If a diagnosis is provided, it privileges the voice of the client.

For the full article, go to www.saybrook.edu/unbound