They Are Gone, But Still With Us
They Are Gone, But Still With Us
Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Psychologist
ISEPP’s courageous founders created a welcoming home for dissident voices within the mental health system, both for the professionals of that system and for those who have been harmed by the system. This legitimizes our voices and buffers against the many groundless and ad hominem criticisms about us and our efforts to reform psychology, psychiatry, and the allied mental health professions. Those founders established and continue to maintain our bona fides as a serious, scientifically-oriented, organization worthy of being heard.
ISEPP was built upon the backs of these giants. Sadly, though, we lost one of our giants when Bert Karon left us in his 90th year. I knew Bert only minimally, and so I do not have the intimate or in-depth memories of him as do those of you who paid tribute to him in these essays. Yet, in the short time I did know him, I found him to be a most welcoming, supportive, knowledgable, and encouraging voice. His support to me in my role as Executive Director was gold, and this was especially important given the difficulties and risks of our struggle against the inhumanity of the powerful mainstream mental health industry. Importantly, Bert’s life with us shows how ISEPP is a living, organic organization that goes forth with those giants, even though they are gone. This is because their essence lives on in the rest of us. Many have gone before Bert and many are yet to leave, yet ISEPP will remain a strong force into the future because of these giants.
In reading the above tributes about Bert’s warmth and support, I think I can understand his value to those of you who knew him so well, as I am reminded of another giant in my life, my mentor at the Florida State University during my doctoral training in clinical psychology and psychotherapy. This was the late mathematician and psychologist Sandy Kerr, Ph.D. Sandy introduced me to a humanistic and constructivist approach to understanding human pain and in helping people assimilate that pain into their lives in a more meaningful and personalized way, and far away from a medical model.
As with Bert, Sandy’s approach was focused on helping his students develop a faith in themselves, their ideas, and their value in making an impact on people’s lives. When I was lost or unsure of myself, struggling with a particularly difficult situation, and had questions about what to do, Sandy would rarely give me an answer. Instead, he nudged me in directions where I would learn more, and forced me to answer the question myself, or more typically, to realize I was asking the wrong question. Many times it was what he didn’t say that helped the most. I once described my experience of his psychotherapy supervision as feeling like I was desperately trying to learn how to build a boat in order to cross a swift river, but finally realizing that all along I was a pretty good swimmer. I’m sure the same can be said about Bert’s wise counsel.
Bert’s message is that each of us is worthwhile and we have the capacity to make an indelible mark on this world. We differ on many things, including our interpretation of the research and the writings of those who came before us and, thus, our understanding of the human condition and the ways to help people in emotional distress. But we are the same in our ability to change people’s lives for the better if we develop our own sense of value. There are many possible answers to life’s questions, but none of them are possible if the one who tries to answer those questions doesn’t feel worthy. This applies to the professionals trying to help and the people looking for help.
Bert’s passion in helping us develop this sense of faith in ourselves is consistent with research on psychotherapy. Decades of studies repeatedly show that technique is secondary. The “common factors” are primary. It can be shown that even when a particular psychotherapy technique has a large effect on outcome, around 85% of that effectiveness is due to things other than the treatment – the common factors. These factors include the person of the client and the person of the therapist, including whether or not both have faith in themselves and in the process.
So as we pay tribute to the life and works of our friend and colleague, Bert Karon, as well as to the rest of those giants who have come and gone, let’s remember they will continue to live on in each of us and this strengthens ISEPP’s ability to make a difference. Each of us has inherent worth, and if we are wise to cultivate that worth and share it with others, as Bert encouraged, we too can become the giants of a great movement such as ours.