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Ann Bernhardt, Psychology
Ann BernhardtPsychology Faculty
Psychology has grown up a lot since Ann Bernhardt started practicing.
In the early 1970s, a student of legendary psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, Ann learned that according to conventional psychology, maturing is something only young people do.
“There was this predominant idea that your cognitive development stops when you’re in your early 20s: You turn 21, you’re cooked, you’re done,” Ann remembers.
That’s not how we actually live, of course. Erikson knew it, Carl Jung knew it, and Ann could see it clearly too. As a doctoral student, she worked to combine Erikson’s theories about the formation of identity in the first half of life with Carl Jung’s ideas about finding new meaning in the second half of life.
“Erik’s work had mostly focused on the formation of identity in the first half of life. Jung was more interested in individuation, about how you might sacrifice your identity for something more meaningful in the second half of life,” she says. “Integrating these depth psychologies makes for a more unified idea of the life cycle.”
Erikson gave her his enthusiastic blessing. “Erik said he had read Jung in the German but didn’t really understand Jungian thinking. The idea of a synthesis of depth approaches to lifespan stages was something he was interested in exploring.”
Ann became one of the early psychologists to focus on identity development throughout the lifespan. That’s becoming accepted wisdom now … of course people continue to develop as they grow old! … but Ann remembers every step of the uphill struggle to get it accepted in mainstream psychology.
“When I started out as an undergraduate, psychology was mostly behavioral analysis, abnormal psychology, and learning theory – stats and rats,” she remembers. “Because I wanted to study developmental psychology, I had to do my undergraduate work through the School of Home Economics. By the mid-70s, we still didn’t even have a word for psychological development in elders – the closest we came was ‘geriatrics,’” the study of how bodies break down.
Today, however, psychology has matured a lot – and describes more about how people continue to develop their personalities at every stage in life.
“We were all pointing towards the lifespan being a place of continued development,” she says. “Now, with fMRI scans that actually show the brain continuing to develop long after we thought it was done, I think the respect for the capacity to change throughout life is really coming to be appreciated.”
Perhaps most exciting, she says, is the realization that “cognitive decline can be worked with as an illness progression, not a normative stage.” Senility isn’t “normal.”
As those changes were happening, Ann taught in a number of graduate programs around the Bay Area, eventually finding her home at Saybrook. “I found that many of the things I was passionate about were recognized as valuable contributions at Saybrook,” she says.
Today Ann serves as the Program Director of Marriage and Family Therapy and Professional Clinical Counseling at Saybrook’s Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies.
“Saybrook’s MFT/PCC program offers a very practical, hands on experience, but what makes it unique is that students have an opportunity to choose a population and become intimate with it,” she says. “While we make sure we’re in accordance with licensing requirements, this is as far from a one-size-fits-all approach as we can make it.”
She thinks that Saybrook’s culture, as a whole, is best for dedicated, independent, learners with a passion for their subject – like she was. But she says the one thing they’ll never lack is support.
“People make connections with each other in our programs,” she says. “We have a chance to be proactive in looking out for each other. I had one student who posted about something very unpleasant that happened in her practicum, and she got immediate support from other Saybrook students. She said ‘I need help,’ and within 24 hours, the community responded. I was able to intervene directly and make a difference. I haven’t seen this degree of immediate support and feedback in residential campuses.”