Volume 24 Number 2 
Spring 2014

Remembering Swampscott

Written by Murray Levine

Swampscott and its Impact

It is among my (many) regrets in life that I was not in attendance in Boston in 1965 at the Swampscott Conference on training in community psychology.  The position the conference adopted proved highly liberating for the field of clinical psychology in terms of practice and conception.   At the time, I was working at the Yale Psychoeducational  Clinic with Seymour Sarason.   The clinic was newly established in 1963 within the Psychology Department. 

I was originally trained in clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania through the Veterans Administration Clinical Training Program, initiated directly after the end of the Second World War to serve the many veterans who had service connected neuropsychiatric diagnoses.   The VA was an excellent program, promising the best of service to returning veterans, but those of us who trained there had little contact with women clients, no contact with children. At the time, because service connection was a prerequisite for treatment eligibility, we could not work with families.  A systems approach would have been blocked by the rules of engagement.

I worked at the VA for seven years and then joined George Spivack at Devereux Schools doing research and clinical work.  We were quite productive and published a great deal.  It was my publication record and my experience at Devereux Schools that attracted Seymour Sarason’s attention and made me eligible in 1963 for appointment to the Yale faculty.   I worked closely with Sarason, and I was also the director of clinical training, an appointment that emphasized that change would be taking place in clinical training.  Until that time, the Ph.D. clinical program was based on the 1949 “Boulder”, scientist-practitioner model, emphasizing psychological testing and psychotherapy with clinical placements in a psychiatric setting.   At the Boulder conference, Sarason, had expressed a minority position when he noted that limiting practice to a psychiatric setting would cut clinical psychology off from contact with many other settings in which people lived their lives, and in which their problems were manifested. 

The Psycho-Educational Clinic was started to provide a setting where a few junior faculty and several graduate students could be placed in non-clinical settings and in roles other than providing direct clinical services.  The reform sentiment prominent in the mid sixties  -The War on Poverty, Head Start, desegregation of education, and the Community Mental Health Centers Act - opened many institutions to change.  Our NIMH Clinical Training Grant provided support for a number of students who did their field work through the Psycho-Educational Clinic.  (Stan Schneider and Forrest Tyler among others then at NIMH, supported training grants and encouraged conferences  to foster a community approach.)   Sarason published a volume coauthored by Clinic faculty and graduate students describing our various activities. We were feeling out way into the community psychology outlook.

The development of that outlook was much enhanced by a free-wheeling, wide ranging Friday morning seminar at the Psycho-Educational Clinic. The seminar, led brilliantly by Sarason, was the intellectual heart of the clinic. It was at that meeting that we first learned about the Swampscott conference and later about developments in community mental health with its provisions for consultation and for preventive programs.  We never developed a free-standing community psychology program,[1] but the range of ideas endorsed by the Swampscott conferees gave us license to go well beyond clinical conceptions of disorder and its treatment.   Some of the Swampscott participants were influenced by the Kurt Lewin tradition of engagement with the real world and provided a precedent for academic involvement with real life problems. 

Sarason always thought of the Clinic and our activities as a laboratory to test ideas and practices. Sarason was interested in the problem of the creation of settings then an unstudied problem.   Ira Goldenberg’s development of the Residential Youth Center was not only an intervention using paraprofessionals, but it was a carefully recorded experiment of issues in creating a setting.

 Our work with a regional community setting in Connecticut for people and families with mental retardation was partly based on Fran Kaplan Grossman’s insightful study of the way wealthy Yale students and their families coped with having a sibling with mental retardation.   The regional center program was designed to duplicate how people with adequate resources dealt with problems of providing care.

Sarason was interested in understanding the public school as a setting; much of our consultation activity was undertaken to appreciate issues faced by inner city teachers whose pupils had a myriad of problems.  We quickly learned that you could not understand the problems of education without also understanding the welfare system, the juvenile courts, law enforcement, the child protection system, and urban renewal.   We worked with the New Haven Community Action program to give us some insight into the many issues presented by a poverty population. 

 My work with my wife Adeline on the history of helping services stemmed from her recognition that late 19th and early 20th century Progressives had gone down the same road we were traveling in the mid 1960s.  My ability to pursue an historical approach within the Psychology Department, then dedicated to the psychological experiment as the preferred methodology, is a tribute to Sarason’s wisdom, and also to the intellectual openness stemming from the wide range of concepts legitimated at the Swampscott conference.   

We now have a community psychology profession, as the participants envisioned, and a successful one judging by the fact that ideas that were new at that time are now the conventional wisdom. The most enduring contribution of Swampscott is in the way its report encouraged the field to adopt a wide range of concepts, methods and problems.  The Swampscott participants opened our minds, for which they deserve our enduring thanks. 

Murray Levine

Buffalo, NY

March 6, 2014

[1] I never tried to develop a separate community psychology program either at Yale or at Buffalo.  In retrospect,  I attribute my hesitancy to a depression- baby mentality. I was always concerned about where the jobs would come from for students who did not have clinical training.  

Posted by on
138736 46396Music began playing anytime I opened this internet site, so irritating! 236450
Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)