Bert Karon was born in 1930. This bright, but unassuming young man earned a scholarship and Bachelors degree from Harvard University and then earned his Ph.D. at Princeton University. As a young psychologist, he was a research fellow in psychometrics at the Educational Testing Service, also in Princeton, New Jersey. He later worked as a clinical psychologist at the Annandale New Jersey Reformatory. Bert, as a young man, spent enough time in New Jersey to be considered a “Jersey Boy.” He also did an internship in direct analysis with the famous psychiatrist John M. Rosen, M.D. and also a U.S.P.H.S. pre-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University. He was also a research psychologist at Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital and then went into private practice in Philadelphia. After ten years of living in New Jersey, where he married his wife of 52 years, Mary, he accepted an offer from Michigan State University in Lansing and worked as a professor of Psychology. Throughout their lives, Mary was a great support to him. They have three wonderful sons, Brent, Blake, and Jonathan. Mary also went out of her way to be incredibly helpful and supportive to people. So much so, that when she died early in 2011, ISEPP set up an award in her honor which is presented periodically to non-professionals who have provided extraordinary help toward the goals of our organization.
Bert was the professor students tried desperately to get supervision from because of his reputation for working in psychotherapy with very disturbed hospitalized patients with no drugs, a reputation that grew over the years both from his writings and from his students. During Bert’s tenure at Michigan State University, he made that graduate program one of the best psychoanalytically oriented graduate programs in the United States. He taught therapists to become brilliant psychoanalytic clinicians. He taught that psychotic symptoms are simply an adaptation to unbearable psychological trauma abuse, and neglect, and he viewed there patients as fellow human beings who are capable, with the help of a strong, caring therapist, of realizing their potentials. His writings are a true reflection of this. This man has taken therapists who have a fear of coming in contact with people who are having psychotic symptoms, and shown them how their fear of their patient is really a fear of what lies in their own minds. He has truly taken Freud’s work to its logical conclusion.
Prior to ever meeting Bert Karon, my own analyst, Stanley Moldawsky, suggested that I read some of Bert’s papers and especially his book, The Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia: The Treatment of Choice. That book has since become a professional bible to me. The first time I met Bert and Mary Karon was at the 2nd meeting of the International Center For The Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), which was ISEPP’s original name. We were standing around chatting and when I told him a funny story about my old supervisor, Margaret Mahler, he began telling us his own stories about Mahler, Anna Freud, Freida Fromm Reichman, Roy Schaffer, and many others. We sat around Bert at these meetings for years with Robert Sliclen, Dominick Riccio, David Stein, Andrew Levine, and a few others, all of whom were at that meeting for the first time, till way past 2:00am listening to Bert’s wonderful stories about these historical figures. From then on, we would look forward to that at future conferences, and were eventually joined by Joe Tarantolo, Al Galves, David Cohen, Grace Jackson, Brian Kean, Emmy Rainwalker, Toby Watson, Kevin McCready, Bob Foltz, and Doug Smith. (Please forgive me for leaving anyone out).
In 2007, Bert and Mary were in a serious accident with a large truck. Although Mary had some injuries, she was basically okay, but Bert suffered a very serious spinal injury and was hospitalized and paralyzed. When I heard, I decided to send him a funny get well card every day until he got out of the hospital, for lack of the ability to do anything else, and never realizing that he would be in the hospital and rehabilitation facility for months. After awhile, I had to work hard to find new cards. Although this injury resulted in enormous physical losses, he did what he had to do to regain and maintain as much physical functioning as possible, with Mary helping him in remarkable ways to persevere. At one point, he told me: “She (Mary) made possible everything good I have ever done and she did a great deal more that I could not do.” Mary, who was 7 years older than Bert, had serious heart problems and she passed away in early 2011. Before she died, she made Bert promise that he would continue his work, which is exactly what he did, right up to the time that he died. I am not going to list his accomplishments and awards here because they are far too numerous.
Bert Karon doesn’t represent just the most caring, loving, and effective psychotherapists on the planet, he represents one of the most caring, loving, and effective people on the planet. He will be missed by an extremely large number of colleagues, students, patients, friends, and everyone else who knew him. All of us in ISEPP have suffered a tremendous loss with his passing.
God be with you and Mary
Lloyd Ross, for all of us