A Tribute to Jim Bugental
At the 2011 APA Convention last August, I was asked to accept, in tandem with Kirk Schneider, the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded posthumously to my teacher and friend Jim Bugental. I began it with a poem:
If his penetrating gaze, twinkling eyes and inviting presence, ever captured you, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever laughed at his lame limericks or puzzled at his word games, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever chided him for his politically incorrect, risqué comments that he delivered to the very end, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever marveled at his exquisite sensitivity to the subjective realm, to his ability to illuminate what was actual but unregarded in the living moment, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever groaned at the sound of his whistle signaling the start of a long and challenging day of training, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever heard him speak tenderly about Liz, his wife, or Karen, his daughter, then you knew Jim Bugental.
If you ever acknowledged the tremendous impact he had on your life, then you knew Jim Bugental.
I’m very grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to Jim, who for 30 years was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.
Jim taught me to appreciate the value of following process over content, the power of presence, and the importance of developing a pou sto (a place to stand) as a therapist.
He taught me that therapy, like life, is not about gathering information—no, indeed— therapy is actual, and subjectively lived, moment to moment.
I learned these skills in a weekly consult group and had the opportunity to practice them at a yearly, five-day retreat in a beautiful part of northern California. He called these trainings, ”The Art of the Psychotherapist.” Some of my closest friendships where forged there. Twenty years later, 18 of us still gather there to immerse ourselves in the work.
The mark of a great teacher is to inspire his students—to expand on his work and to make it their own. I think Jim would be very proud of us. We have made films, written books, taught courses, and even created a teaching institute.
Sixteen years ago, with Jim as our consultant, Kirk Schneider, Nader Shabahangi, and I, with, several other colleagues, created the Existential-Humanistic Institute. Its intention was to continue the community building that Jim began and to teach the E-H approach to the next generation of therapists.
One of our goals was to develop a certificate program in E-H therapy, and now our dream has been realized. This fall, EHI is launching two certificate programs, one in partnership with Saybrook University. We already have 10 students; four are international—from Austria, Canada, and Singapore.
Our certificate program is anchored in a principle dear to Jim’s heart—that incidentally has been validated by recent research.
The principle is this:
It is the human dimension that is ultimately responsible for life-changing therapy. It is the person of the therapist and the therapeutic relationship that truly matter—not particular techniques or treatment modalities.
Jim wisely knew that—that is why he was one of the great masters of our time.
-- Orah Krug