TC Mourns Roger Myers, Champion of Counseling Psychology | Teachers College Columbia University

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TC Mourns Roger Myers, Champion of Counseling Psychology

Roger A. Myers, a 30-year TC faculty member who championed the development of the field of counseling psychology and played a major role in shaping its standards for professional education, training and credentialing, died in early September at age 85.

Myers, who retired in 1995 as Richard March Hoe Professor of Psychology and Education, directed the College’s programs in Counseling and Personnel Psychology. He also chaired what was then the Department of Psychology and directed the Division of Psychology and Education.

“I consider Roger to have been a consummate psychologist,” said W. Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology & Education, a longtime friend and colleague. “He was extremely thoughtful about the entire field of psychology and what students should learn and how they should learn it. He was also a leader of all of us who were psychologists at TC.”

Myers served as President of Division 17 of the American Psychological Association, which represents counseling psychology, and served on the editorial boards of The Journal of Counseling Psychology and the Journal of College Student Personnel. He was among the first counseling psychologists to serve as an APA accreditation site visitor and eventually chaired the APA Committee on Accreditation. He also chaired the committee that constructs the licensing examination in psychology in all 50 U.S. states and the 10 provinces of Canada. Myers served as a consultant to Eli Lilly, Merck, IBM, NASA, the Army Institute and other organizations.

Roger Alan Myers grew up in Cincinnati during the Depression in a family in which nearly everyone worked for the railroad, from his grandfather, who was a baggage handler, to his father’s oldest brother, who served as Vice President of New York Central.

“They all hated their work, and they all communicated to me that no matter what you do, just make sure you like doing it,” Myers recalled in a May 2001 interview in The Counseling Psychologist.

The field of counseling psychology came into being after World War II to address that concern, as well as the reintegration of veterans, the rehabilitation of the physically disabled and guidance in schools – issues that many clinical psychologists did not see as falling within their purview. Myers himself defined the counseling psychologist as someone “whose concern is fully distributed among psychological functions such as remediation, prevention and development,” and who is willing to use “the technology of psychotherapy in a variety of ways – not just to make sick people feel better.”

Myers won a scholarship to Harvard, but still couldn’t afford to go there, instead attending Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where he was introduced to the field of industrial psychology by two mentors, Frank Fletcher and Harold Pepinsky. He met his wife, Barbara, there, married her on the day of his graduation (she was a year ahead), and served as an Air Force Intelligence Officer during the Korean War, retiring as in 1970 with the rank of Captain. He taught at the University of North Dakota, where he founded and directed a counseling center, and in 1963 was recruited by Donald Super to join TC’s faculty. Three years earlier, Connecticut had become the first state to institute a licensing law for psychologists.

“As I saw state after state after state adopt licensing laws, I thought, ‘This is pretty serious business,’” Myers recalled. “Deciding who is competent and who is not, deciding who is entitled and who is not, I got more interested in that than in any particular academic enterprise in which I was involved.”

With those concerns in mind, Myers as head of Division 17, championed an increased focus on diversity, including gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. In particular, he was proud that the division became “a place where standards for competency in counseling women and doing psychotherapy with women emerged and where competency in cross-cultural counseling emerged as a set of documented standards.”   

Later in his career, Myers spoke out against what he called the “managed care, third-party payer ethos” that he felt was causing all of applied psychology to focus “on getting its share of the economic pie” at the expense of human service. He predicted that managed care would not survive.

“Sooner or later, some enlightened person – probably someone who is in junior high now – is going to be the CEO of Prudential and i s going to say, ‘We are missing a bet to not be buying prevention and developmental efforts.’”

During his 30 years at TC, Myers, who supervised more than 130 doctoral dissertations, was known as a devoted mentor and advocate on behalf of all students.

“As a beginning doctoral student I was amazed that he always seemed to have time,” said George Gushue, Associate Professor of Psychology & Education, who now teaches a course created by Myers and occupies his former office. “Every time I approached him in the hall and asked if I could speak with him, he would reach into his pocket and pull out his calendar, fix me in his gaze, and say ‘When would be good for you?’  Whatever time I picked, it was always okay.” (Read a remembrance of Myers by Gushue.)

Myers’ own view of mentoring was that “too much support and not enough challenge leads to arrested development,” while “Too much challenge and not enough support leads to frustration and disenchantment with oneself.”

“Finding the right balance is the chore of the mentor, the parent the teacher, the counselor, the therapist,” he said in 2001. “It all seems very simple now, but then, everything does when you are retired.”

Burke also described Myers as both “understanding, in great depth, the relationship-based culture of TC, and who to go to for what” and possessing “a wicked sense of humor” about the institution, work and life – a quality that exposed him to some occasional pranks in return.

“He was such a regular presence at the faculty club that at his retirement party, we had a waiter roll out the Myers Memorial Table,” recalled Burke. “I will really miss him.”

Myers is survived by his daughter, Sydney Walker, son-in-law, Andrew Walker, granddaughters Haley and Alison Walker, and a sister, Marilyn Stucker.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Roger A. Myers Scholarship Fund for Counseling Psychology at Teachers College, established by Myers’ daughter, Sydney Walker. Contact Linda Colquhoun at 212 678-3679.

Published Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2015

TC Mourns Roger Myers, Champion of Counseling Psychology

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  • Reminiscing about Roger, my great friend and colleague for 45 years –

    I will always remember Roger and I will miss him.  Roger and I go back to 1956, when we were  graduate students working for our Ph.D at Ohio State University. We first met, along with our spouses, at a cocktail party hosted by Professors Harold and Pauline Pepinsky. We were on different career paths, Roger in Counseling Psychology and I in Industrial/Organization Psychology. Little did I know that we would meet up again in 1965 and then have the pleasure to work, travel and be close friends for the next 40 years? 

    At that time when I was working as a Human Factors manager for IBM in NY, I decided to start a research project in computer assisted career planning for high school students.  I needed help in career counseling psychology so I called Professor Pepinsky at OSU.  He said I should contact Professors Roger Myers and Donald Super at Columbia University Teachers College.  Roger and Donald both liked the idea and agreed to help explore the possibilities, and they then became IBM consultants.

    Together, we created the IBM Education & Career Planning System (ECES), and launched field studies in New Jersey and Michigan schools.   It was a success story. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s we were invited to give talks at major conferences throughout Europe, USA and Canada and jointly published our ideas and results.

    My wife (Edie) and I attended Roger’s retirement farewell party at TC.  A few days later, we met up on an Anguilla Island beach in the Caribbean. We always enjoyed traveling with the Myers and took many other trips together including a lot of doubles tennis. Roger had a great sense of humor and wit that always brightened up the day. 

    After I retired from IBM, for the next 20 years, Edie and I spent our winter months in Anna Maria, FL as neighbors and close friends with Roger and Barbara. We will always miss Roger and his ways to brighten the day.   - Frank J. Minor