10/20/15 09:05 PM
A Personal Tribute to Lee Sechrest — Teacher and Friend
I was one of Lee’s first graduate students at Northwestern. Similar to Lee, I came from farm country and schooling that hinted little of a future in the rarified air of academia and a long research career.
At 18, I stumbled into and bumbled my way through a state university. But as did Lee, I got lucky. I met a professor who hired me as an undergraduate assistant in the Psychological-Educational Clinic. He taught me to interview and test clients, and introduced me to a career path I never knew existed.
Our early lives differed in at least one major way: at about 18 he joined the Marine Corps to experience a wider world and landed in a combat zone of the Korean War. I joined the Arizona National Guard to escape mandatory ROTC at a land-grant institution, and practiced patrols for 4 years in mountain foothills where the only dangers were cacti and rattlesnakes.
By extraordinary (in hindsight) coincidence, my undergrad mentor prodded me to apply for admission to the school where he had earned his Ph.D.: Northwestern. I did, and was admitted to the Ph.D. program in the psychology department at the beginning of Lee’s 3rd year on the Northwestern faculty.
By another extraordinary coincidence, in 1984 Lee was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona where I began my collegiate education. Yet another coincidence a few years earlier. By chance Lee and another significant mentor of mine — Roland Tharp — were visiting. We walked into my faculty office, and I saw a letter from the chancellor of the university. The two people who had such a huge influence on my career watched as I read of my promotion to professor.
As it did for Lee, a clinical psychology internship taught me a life-altering lesson. During that year-long immersion in clinical practice, I encountered a world of primitivism — where lives could be altered and perhaps destroyed because of responses to the color cards of the Rorschach.
Before Sechrest’s course on projective testing, I had been looking forward to initiation into the secret knowledge revealed by projective testing that would distinguish me from mere mortals. After transformation by his scientific critique of the Rorschach, my response to the appeals to the authority of its devotees were the questions drilled into me by Professor Sechrest and his Northwestern colleagues Underwood and Taylor. How was the sample recruited? How many cases were observed? Was there a control group? Were the measurements objective, reliable, and valid? Lee had taught and I had learned that authority appeals were marketing, not evidence.
Two years of Sechrest and Northwestern turned me into a skeptic. No longer was I confident that an experienced clinical psychologist possessed powerful knowledge and insights I wanted to master.
A year of practical experience in a psychiatric hospital and two years of scientific psychology in graduate seminars produced an outcome that surprised me. When the internship ended, I headed back to Northwestern filled with vague ideas about a different direction — becoming a researcher who discovered new treatments that worked better than what I learned in a year of clinical practice. Whether any research I did the next 50 years added up to much is for others to say. But returning to a world in which Lee Sechrest remained a life-long teacher and mentor was a decision I never regretted. He affected as much and more, many scores of students.
Many years after my Northwestern days, Lee told me: “I was on the admissions committee at Northwestern and argued for you because I saw in your record a history that seemed similar to my own.”
A compliment as fine as I ever received.
A great teacher has left us, but maybe not:
Some years ago two of Roland Tharp’s fine students asked the Dalai Lama:
Students: I wonder if you have in your past any people who were important teachers or a kind of master that you think about now?
The Dalai Lama: Those Indian pundits! Many centuries back . . .
Students: No, I mean someone who influenced you when you were a child or a younger man, who was a master to you, and you his disciple.
The Dalai Lama: Yes, the great Indian pundits of the past many centuries.
Students: But no one living? I mean, not an actual person?
The Dalai Lama: No. You see, those living persons, they are just carrying the messages of the great Indian pundits . . .
(Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, p. 160)
Through the lessons he taught and the examples he set, Lee is still teaching.
B.A. 1960, University of Arizona, Education
Ph.D., 1964, Northwestern University, Psychology