Thank you Dr. David West Keirsey

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A brilliant mind and a caring soul is no longer with us in body, but his legacy will live on in the many lives he touched in his 91 years, not only through his books, but through his many students and the lives we touch. I first met David in 1969 when I was searching for the office of the Master’s Program in Counseling to turn in my application. My recalled image was of him sitting at a table typing on a typewriter, with no other furniture in the room. He gruffly answered my question and went back to typing. I was nearly in tears wondering what I was getting myself into. In truth, I got myself into an amazing learning journey that continues today. And I later discovered that he was really much more accessible as a professor and later as a mentor than I would ever have dreamed.

I’m not sure why I remember him all alone in the room with no other furniture. Was it really true? It may have been, but the image seems symbolic to me of his singular existence as a voice in the wilderness of the very confounded and confused world of psychology and psychopathology. And sadly, his vision of influencing the way psychiatry and the medical model treat dysfunctional behavior may never come to pass. This mission of his continued even in his years of declining health as you can see in this video of him discussion his thoughts with his family. What a keen mind and what a mission to make a difference!

David’s gifts to the world went beyond the temperament theory he is known for. In fact, while temperament was important in the program, it was not his major contribution to us students.

He architected one of the most innovating counselor training programs in existence. And graduates from this program were in great demand because we got results. We were taught 15 different methods for helping and healing. He talked about healers, not counselors as each week we learned the essential qualities of the greats in the field and some of the unknown ones. First we learned, ‘what does the healer do?’ Then we had to learn what their theories about what made their approaches and models work. And lastly we had to practice with classmates. David’s talent at getting at the essence of a process was amazing.

Marilyn Bates was the chair of the program and visionary that she was, she hired David to work with her in developing a very innovative program. They bucked the traditional system. Two semesters were spend with us not in the classroom, but instead producing videos, audio recordings, and manuscripts that demonstrated our competencies. Instead of grades we were graded on a 7 point scale, with 5 being passing at the Masters degree level. Instead of secretaries, recent graduates were hired as coaches. Faculty met together more than once a week and co-designed the courses that were all interrelated towards the same goal of developing exceptional therapists and school counselors. They often lectured in classes not their own and there was such a sense of collaboration that our experience and learning were greatly enhanced.

On Marilyn’s death, David became chair and continued the innovative program, which attracted students from around the country. Once he retired the larger system eventually reverted to standard university teaching and his brilliant curriculum was over. During one of my many meetings with him as my main dissertation advisor, he discussed his disappointment in the system as well as his pragmatic acceptance that it is the way of systems to protect themselves. He taught us systems thinking way before it was popular and how to intervene in a system so that the symptoms of the labeled patient were not perpetuated. It was not only what he taught, but the way he held the space for us to learn the essential principles and do our work more effectively.

My time at California State University—Fullerton as a student and as a lecturer became the standard for what I wanted in my professional life. The collaborative, groundbreaking, think-tank environment was amazing in what was accomplished. I saw the influence of it later in my involvement with the beginnings of the Western Region of the Association of Psychological Type. Under the visionary guidance of fellow students, Louise Giovanni, Evelyn Delunas, and Sue Cooper, we launched a very active learning environment that provided a place where David’s work was shared and many of us were able to deepen our knowledge. The collaborative, learning environment continued. And what I learned about the theories and models is nothing compared to what I learned about the importance of getting to the essence of ‘What does the (blank) do?” This has been my guiding principle in all of the training we offer and my guiding principle in how I work with organizations so I don’t get stuck in theories.

David was generous with his time and ideas. He spoke frequently at the Chapter meetings of the Association for Psychological Type as well as the national and regional conferences. He attended our meetings to learn as well. I remember going to one of the regional conferences in Indianapolis, Indiana, and during his presentation someone commented that they were surprised that I was madly taking notes. My answer was that David always had more to teach and I always had more to learn from him. I would have followed him anywhere if I had had the resources and I did attend most of his conference presentations. I would still today if he were here.

In 1983, when I approached him about being on my dissertation committee, he offered me the opportunity to attend his lectures where he was presenting his latest thinking on psychopathology. I had the pleasure of meeting with him frequently in his home in Del Mar to discuss my progress and many other things. When I changed topics after early data collection indicated that there were too many confounding variables to make it worth continuing, he stuck with me and helped me design a new study. He was a taskmaster and several times I was in tears as he would correct his corrections. Finally I said to him, ‘David, the goal is for me to get my degree, not to form the perfect sentence!’ He liked to poke fun at me and to argue as well.

David’s wife, Alice, was very supportive and encouraging and one time she told me, “You know, David says you are his most profound student.” That kept me going many times as I worked hard to incorporate his critiques. I had to remind myself that he thought I was smart or he wouldn’t work with me. When I presented my research to a somewhat adversarial audience at the 1985 APT conference in Evanston, Illinois, David and Alice were in the audience providing friendly faces. And yet, he chuckled as he told me that I would never convince them with logic. What a lesson that has been as I continue to try!

After my school psychologist job ended, Louise, Sue, Eve and I had the idea that I would start an institute. We called it Temperament Research Institute. David liked the name and the goal. His work was no longer being taught and there was so much more than what was written in Please Understand Me. He gave me access to the 5000 names on the mailing list and kicked off the formation of the organization with a daylong workshop. He later spoke at TRI’s conferences and never with any compensation. We talked periodically on the phone and I would sometimes go meet with him to share what we had accomplished. He mentored me in so many ways.

David was not always easy to know. One day he called me and said he wanted to talk with me about my books. I was so honored that he wanted to talk about what I had written that I eagerly agreed. We went to a restaurant and he started to tear apart what I had written about Jung’s theory. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t get him to see the value in using Jung’s theory in the way I used it, that I blew up at him in the restaurant. I was embarrassed by my outburst, but as we all are when we do things like this, I felt justified. I regret now that I short-circuited what could have been a very stimulating conversation, which is what I think he wanted. Yes, he did want me to change my mind, but he also wanted to engage in a debate. And I always learned from his debates. I figured he had written me off at that point, but later had occasion to call him and he took my call. I apologized and he said to think nothing of it. I think he was a bit amused even by my human nature.

It wasn’t the only time he forgave me. There were other disagreements over the years, but the last time I saw him was a couple of years ago in the Mother’s Market parking lot. I mustered my courage and went over to talk with him while Alice when in to do the shopping. He was warm and greeted me with enthusiasm. He asked if I was still writing and he said he was still writing and we updated each other on our families and projects. I somehow knew this would be the last time I saw him and I will forever miss the conversations we had and the guidance he gave me for the good it will bring.

I am saddened by his death and I am also saddened that you may never know him as the caring person he was and for all the really more important things he contributed than temperament theory. He did walk to the beat of a different drummer and I hope to continue that walk even though it will be in my own way.

P.S. if you want to read more about David, Wikipedia has some pretty good information. (I didn’t review it all for accuracy)