Jazz, Rock and Roll, and the Revolution in Psychotherapy, 1950-1975

Background-Why now? 

Writing this dissertation was one of the highlights of my life, a real epiphany and turning point. Here’s the story…

I was enrolled in the PhD program at the Humanistic Psychology Institute (now, Saybrook University) from 1973 to 1977. I had completed my Master’s degree at San Francisco State University in early 1973. I was drawn to HPI because of its self-directed study model. I had considered other doctoral programs, but they all seemed too rigid. One, in fact, had all class work aimed at satisfying California State licensing requirements for psychologists. This had no interest to me.

From the beginning of my HPI work, I was conceptualizing and working on this dissertation. During the four years of my time in the program, I was also teaching at several local colleges, including my alma mater, SF State. In addition, I was consulting and doing therapy in a local mental health center. All of this was congruent with my work on this research. In teaching Psych 1A, for example, it was easy to relate material from the research to the content of the class. There was a rich connection as well with my class on Personality Theory (not so much with the one class I taught in statistics).

In 1974 I got divorced, found a small apartment in Marin, and dug into the research and the writing. I became a monk. My life was focused, 24/7 on this project. I was a man on a mission, not to save humanity, but to answer questions about music and psychotherapy, and at a deeper level, how my life had evolved within the context of these two areas. I was on a great treasure hunt, doing interviews in hotel rooms and the basements of jazz clubs, researching at the library, meeting with my committee, writing. Focus. I loved it.

Slowly the original 400-page monster took shape. My committee kept demanding changes, which I hated at the time, but I now see were critical to the value of the work and, more importantly, to my development as a psychologist, teacher, and person.

My first committee chair was Tom Hanna, an amazing visionary who was instrumental in the founding of HPI. His enthusiasm for this research was infectious and so important to me. Tom moved on to other things. My second chair was Roger Snyder, an adjunct professor at HPI. I also had two professors from SF State on my committee: Bob Mogar and Bob Suczek (1918’2006). Bob Suczek is a Christ-like figure in my life. Working with him brought me personal growth beyond my wildest dreams. One meets such a person once or twice in a lifetime. The dissertation was dedicated to him.

When the dissertation was finished and I’d been awarded my PhD, I wrote a letter of thanks to Bob Suczek. He wrote back saying how much he had enjoyed working with me and helping to shape this excellent work. Commenting on our mentor/mentee relationship, he concluded the letter: ‘What you may not have known, Rick, is that I needed you as much as you needed me.

Although not on my committee, another personwho made a huge impact on me and this work was also a psychology professor at SF State, Bob Dreher (1915 – 1989). I had taken several of his undergraduate classes. I kept him abreast of my work at Saybrook.

In the spring of 1976, I had published an article about my research in ‘Voices: Journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. I proudly left a reprint in his box in the faculty lounge at SF State. Several days later I got a three-page, hand-written letter in my box from Bob. He responded in some detail to the issues I’d raised in the article. The concluding paragraph talked about our relationship over the years, and ended with a line that makes me tear up to this day, ‘…so, it goes without saying, both in person and in print, I love you very much little brother. Little brother. I love you too, big brother.

All of this was magically affirming and life changing. So why then in the summer of 1977, when the committee had accepted my dissertation, and I was awarded a PhD, did I feel so let down? I had achieved my goal. I was ready to begin the next phase of my life. What was wrong? For one thing, this was the end of four years of focused work, and I had no idea what the next phase of my life should be. Now what? I certainly wasn’t any smarter and frankly felt like a phony with a degree from an unaccredited school. I felt more and more depressed. I got back into therapy with a psychiatrist who put me on anti-depressants. Wait a minute. I was working in community mental health. I put people on meds! I didn’t take the goddamn meds. What the hell?

Time went by, and things started looking better. My teaching and consulting were going well, but I longed for ‘a real job. In 1980, I moved from psychology into business, taking a training position with Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto. I left the world of psychology behind as I developed a new career. I thought to myself, ‘Now I’m in business working with healthy people. This will be an entirely different world. First day on the job, I was reviewing our training materials, and boom, here comes Abe Maslow, and everyone is talking about self actualization. ‘Well I’ll be go to hell, as my dad used to say. In addition, consulting with technical management at all levels, my psychology training proved invaluable.

In 1985, I started my own company, PowerSpeaking, Inc. We specialize in speech communication training. My work in psychology, and especially my doctoral research, has been critical to the success of our company. For example, in 2004 we launched a new program, ‘Speaking to the Big Dogs: A Boardroom Survival Kit. It consisted of 17 videotaped interviews I did with C-level executives from all around Silicon Valley. It was recommended in Fortune Magazine and won the ASTD Top Ten Award in 2004. As of this writing, we are releasing an updated version of that program, ‘Speaking Up: Presenting to Executives. The program will stream from the Internet.

Without a doubt, my ability to conceptualize, and develop complex, very successful programs like these is directly tied to the work I did way back in the mid-’70s at Saybrook. A few years ago as part of the ongoing accreditation renewal process, Saybrook asked for stories from alumni that could be submitted to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Here is the letter I wrote that pretty much sums in up:

Dear WASC,

When I completed my work and graduated with a PhD from Saybrook in 1977, I was discouraged and depressed. Since the school was not yet accredited, I feared I had a sub-standard degree and that I could not compete with graduates from accredited programs.

A friend and professor at SF State, Ben White, who had a doctorate from Michigan, tried to console me: ‘There are lots of different approaches to PhD work in psychology that are all valuable. Not every dissertation has to be experimental, statistical and quantitative. I dismissed his comments.

As the years went by, however, I began to appreciate my Saybrook work at a deeper level. I ultimately left the field of psychology for work at Hewlett Packard and then at Amdahl corporations. Looking back, my experience at Saybrook was critical to my success. My ability to conceptualize solutions to problems in new and innovative ways, was central, not only in my corporate work, but more importantly when I started my own, very successful, consulting business in 1985. We now employ 20 people, work for some of the largest Fortune 500 companies and offer training programs around the world. My background in clinical work, research, and raw theory-building has been the backbone of the success of our company.

I feel enormous gratitude to Saybrook for the ‘self directed’ program I experienced there. Recently I had lunch with a Stanford Business School professor whose psychology PhD was also from Michigan. I wanted to learn more about her research. She asked where my degree was from. When I said, ‘Saybrook,’ her expression brightened, her eyes got bigger, and she said simply, ‘Wow. I hear that is a great program.’

What a long way we have all come. I am now very proud of Saybrook, my degree, and my original 400-page dissertation.


Rick Gilbert, ’77

Today, I get what Ben White was talking about.

The dissertation sat on the shelf for 34 years. It had not been read by more than half a dozen people. It occurred to me that if this is such an important part of who I became, I should publish it. It is all about legacy. I’d like to have more people read it; but if no one but my daughter Katy ever reads it, it will be worth it.

So there you have it. I’ve updated the book with photos (most of which I have taken since the dissertation was written) and personal stories that would not have been appropriate for the original dissertation.

I hope you enjoy the book. It looks at the time frame from 1950 to 1975. I think it makes a compelling case for the cultural link between popular music and therapy during those years. I’m sure there is still a link, but damned if I know what it is. Both music and therapy have moved in so many new and sometimes strange directions. What does it all mean? I’ll leave it to some young energetic grad student to tackle that problem.

In the meantime, happy reading. Let me know what you think. rick@powerspeaking.com

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