Ruth Richards, Psychology

Photograph of Ruth Richards

Ruth Richards

Psychology Faculty

One of the leading researchers on creativity in daily life, Dr. Ruth Richards adores teaching at Saybrook. "Every student I've met has come for a very good reason: not just to get a higher degree and more money but because they have great ideas, and they're committed."

It's the academic home Dr. Richards has been looking for her whole life. She had a great experience at UC Berkeley, where she got her Ph.D., and also deeply respects Harvard " where she earned her M.D. and serves as a part-time faculty member. But it's Saybrook, she said, that truly lets students and teachers alike embrace the creativity she researches.

"I went from being a sort of fringy person in my interests at Harvard to a conservative at Saybrook - it's been great," she said. "A very well known colleague in psychology who's a senior endowed chair came to the Saybrook table at the American Psychological Association recently, and he virtually had tears in his eyes when he realized how open we were and what we could discuss."

The ideal of free and open academic inquiry changed Dr. Richards' life. She was studying to be a high school teacher, getting a degree in physics (because she loved science) and art because like so many people, I thought ‘well, art is where you get to be creative.'"

But a discussion about diagnostic tests in a required psychology class made her realize: it was possible to come up with profoundly creative ways to answer even standardized questions. The creativity, even in such a mundane situation, was real and could be studied.

"I wasn't planning to get a Ph.D.," she said, laughing, "but when I realized you could study creativity I wanted to do that."

Her medical degree followed her Ph.D., as did a series of papers, presentations, and books, the most recent of which, "Everyday Creativity," has achieved both scholarly and popular acclaim, ranking in the top 10 Amazon books on "creativity."

But she wants to emphasize that she doesn't deserve much of the credit she's received as a pioneer in the field. "This is not really new, and wasn't when I got it. People like (Saybrook Founder) Abraham Maslow had written about it. Humanistic psychologists had been writing about it before and it's really eye-opening. "

As faculty in Saybrook's Creativity Studies program, Dr. Richards brings that cannon of Humanistic Psychology to her students while encouraging them to write the next chapter. "At Saybrook students can pursue most any question " if it's done with rigor and critical thinking. We need that in this crazy world."

It's an opportunity she had to forge for herself as a student, and she's determined to help her students make the most of it.

"For me, a lot of being at Saybrook and doing this work is about honoring our greater potential," she said. "We try to keep Saybrook students connected even while they're blazing their own path. We try to get people to join APA, to attend conferences. We help students publish, we help them get jobs. If you're really going to do something new it does take extra work and time: but at Saybrook we have a very good support system. I enjoy being at a place like that."