Stanley Krippner, Psychology

Photograph of Stanley Krippner

Stanley Krippner

Psychology Faculty

When Stanley Krippner was a freshman in college, studying psychology in the 1950s, he wanted to know about dreams.

Dreams, as interpreted by Sigmund Freud, were once at the heart of psychology – but now his professor only spent two sentences on the subject, and he said something extraordinary.

"He said," Stanley remembers, "that only schizophrenics dream in color."

Stanley Krippner, now one of the world's leading authorities on dreams, shakes his head in disbelief. He remembers looking at his friends in class, mute with astonishment. "We'd all had dreams in color," he recalls. "Even in the 1950s, he should have known better, and none of us believed him. This moment enabled me to take a skeptical point of view about what professors were teaching – even professors of psychology."

Skeptical, maybe, but still passionate. Stanley cannot remember a time when he was not passionate about psychology. He remembers, as a child in the 1930s, cutting out newspaper articles whenever psychology was mentioned. When Sigmund Freud died in 1939, Stanley remembers cutting that obituary out too and saving it with the others. He also remembered his dreams: he had dreams as a young boy that he still remembers today. He closes his eyes, picturing one of them, and then shakes his head.

"Despite realizing just how wrong some psychologists could be, I persisted," he says. But a more serious barrier came when the psychology professors of the time … strict behaviorists … would not let him study human experience and meaning. Only human behavior.

"I got around that by studying the psychology of education as an undergraduate," he says. "There you were allowed to have some emphasis on the experiential aspect – and then I did my graduate work in education, focusing on educational psychology, specifically because they were more open to these questions at the time."

By the 1990s, of course, many of the same subjects that Stanley had to work so hard to learn as a student were now widely accepted by the mainstream: psychology recognizes the value of human experience, no one is a strict behaviorist, and almost everybody dreams in color.

Stanley should have felt triumphant – but by then he'd already moved on to other areas that psychology considered "fringe": the psychology of exceptional children, the neurology of learning disabilities, the psychology of spiritual practice … and, of course .. dreams.

"The connecting thread is that all of these phenomena are frontiers," Stanley says. "And this is what has interested me throughout my career: because I think ‘this is where important discoveries could be made.' "

Once again, "mainstream" psychology is catching up to the trail Stanley blazed – neuropsychology and the psychology of spiritual practice are hot topics today - and once again he is moving on. "I think, in the future, the various branches of psychology will become more interdisciplinary, and even trans-disciplinary, creating new disciplines in and of themselves," he says. "And I think Saybrook is right at the cutting edge of all of these topics – Saybrook could play a very important role in shaping the psychology of tomorrow."

The author and editor of dozens of books and over 100 chapters, Stanley has never gotten rich by being a trailblazer - "I was always more interested in learning what was going on than making money from it, I suppose to my detriment," he says, laughing – but he has been honored.

He's received three awards from the American Psychological Association, including the coveted award for Distinguished Contributions to the International advancement of Psychology, and awards from universities as far away as Spain and India. He holds faculty positions in Mexico and Brazil, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and most recently received the "Ways of Knowing Award" from the Life Science Foundation and the University of Minneapolis for "exploring culturally based healing traditions and practices."

But for all these honors, he says teaching at Saybrook remains of one the highlights of his intellectual life. "The students here want what I wanted: a chance to ask questions they're passionate about, and explore really interesting issues," he says. "Helping them do that, helping them make the most out of that drive, is a joy."