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Memories of SSU

Kay Caldwell

Student, Psychology (External Degree Program)

           I came to Sonoma State University (then Sonoma State College) in 1972. I was 28 years old and full of ideals and ambitions.

           Several past experiences led me to Sonoma State. The encounter groups I had attended and co-led when I lived in Las Vegas had changed my life. They were weekend experiences where participants were encouraged to only talk about the present moment, not tell stories about the past. Being open and honest was the rule. If you felt close to someone, sit near them, if you felt distant, move away. I learned to be more authentic, more present and felt more alive than ever before. When I moved to San Francisco to live with Laird Sutton, I participated in all the training and film-making he was doing at the National Sex Forum. I saw people being stirred up and stimulated by all the information, but not much structure for them to process the feelings that came up. I started co-leading sexuality workshops with several psychologists. I used the films as means for participants to explore their own feelings and attitudes.

           These groups were a wonderful way to get people to open up and be freer. But sometimes participants would come to me and ask about problems. I didn’t have the skills or training to help them. That led me to explore further education. I had heard that the Masters Degree program in Humanistic Psychology at Sonoma State University was innovative and unique. When I went to Sonoma State to check it out, I was told to show up on a Friday in September. Just show up for a Master’s program?

           It turned out that the Humanistic Psychology Program (HPP) was not the masters program, but a prerequisite to be admitted to the External Degree Program, which was an experimental program exploring and teaching the cutting edge of Humanistic Psychology. I showed up as directed on a Friday in September of 1972 and was soon immersed in classes and workshops. I had always been a “good girl,” followed the rules and got good grades. Now I was being challenged to create my own experiences and make my own rules. I was confused at first, then dove in. There were speakers and presenters at each of the Friday meetings, with lots of experiential exercises. There were additional classes offered and I signed up for all I could manage; Pyschosynthesis, Gestalt, Play Therapy, Family Therapy, and Core were some of them. There were jokes about “Granola State University” and that a person could not walk down the hall without being enveloped in a group hug.

           I entered the External Degree Program in Psychology in September 1973. I was part of a group of about 12 students that formed in HPP out of friendships and common interests. Mac McCreary was our advisor. We all wanted to gain basic skills and experience in counseling, with an emphasis on the human potential ethic. People who sought counseling were called “clients” instead of “patients.” There was general disdain for the illness model of mental health, and a focus on helping people reach their full potential.  We wrote our own program and hired our own teachers. It was an exhausting and exhilarating process. We hired a gentle man to lead our group process class. But we got bogged down in uncomfortable feelings and unspoken resentments. Finally we hired Carmen Lynch, our powerful Family Therapy teacher, to facilitate our group process. That was a breath of fresh air, and our group really worked together           then.

           This group process is a good example of our values in this program. It was very important to understand group process, and part of that was to experience it directly. This applied to our personal psychotherapy as well. We all had private therapists. We weren’t just learning the theory of this work, but understanding it from the inside out.

           As part of the training to become a counselor, I had an internship at Community Family Center in Santa Rosa. We offered counseling and help with do-it-yourself divorces. Several of us hired Eileen McCann as our supervisor. I was lucky to get free intensive training in Sex Therapy with Tom and Thea Lowry, who had spent a year studying with Masters and Johnson. The training was offered to man-woman teams working in agencies. Charles, a fellow graduate student, and I were both interns at the Community Family Center and drove to Berkeley every day for 2 weeks for this incredibly valuable training. We became lifelong friends as well as sex therapists. Charles and some others had hired Ken Cousins as their supervisor. Since Charles and I did co-therapy with couples, we were able to consult with both supervisors. It was very valuable to get feedback from these two powerful teachers.

           In June 1974 I received my Master of Art degree from Sonoma State University. I went on to get licensed as a counselor and had a private practice for almost twenty years. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that exciting time. My experiences in that program informed and enriched my life.