On This Day … 28 June

People (Births)

  • 1948 – Daniel Wegner, Canadian-American psychologist and academic (d. 2013).

People (Deaths)

  • 2012 – Richard Isay, American psychiatrist and author (b. 1934).

Daniel Wegner

Daniel Merton Wegner (28 June 1948 to 05 July 2013) was an American social psychologist. He was a professor of psychology at Harvard University and a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was known for applying experimental psychology to the topics of mental control (for example ironic process theory) and conscious will, and for originating the study of transactive memory and action identification. In The Illusion of Conscious Will and other works, he argued that the human sense of free will is an illusion.

After gaining his doctorate in 1974, he spent sixteen years teaching at Trinity University, becoming a full Professor in 1985. From 1990 to 2000, he researched and taught at the University of Virginia, after which he joined the faculty at Harvard University.

Awards

In 2011, Wegner was awarded the William James Fellow Award by the Association for Psychological Science, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award by the American Psychological Association, and the Distinguished Scientist Award by the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. In 2012, he was awarded the Donald T. Campbell Award by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). Furthermore, shortly after Wegner’s death in 2013, SPSP announced that its annually awarded Theoretical Innovation Prize would henceforth be known as the Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize to honour Wegner’s memory and his innovative work.

Richard Isay

Richard A. Isay (13 December 1934 to 28 June 2012) was an American psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, author and gay activist. He was a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and a faculty member of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Isay is considered a pioneer who changed the way that psychoanalysts view homosexuality.

Richard Isay was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Isay graduated from Haverford College and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Soon after completing his psychiatry residency at Yale University, he completed his training at the Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute. Throughout his career, Isay maintained a private practice of psychiatry and psychoanalysis and was an influential teacher and supervisor. He was the programme chairman of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), the American Program Chairman of the International Psychoanalytical Association and chairman of the Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association.

In 1983, as chair of the APsaA’s programme committee, Isay organised a panel called “New Perspectives on Homosexuality”. Isay argued that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual identity, and that psychoanalysts should stop trying to change the sexual orientation of their patients, which he considered injurious, creating a firestorm of controversy. “Several analysts walked out”, Isay later recalled. Isay soon became the first openly gay member of the association.

Isay wrote widely on the subjects of psychoanalysis and homosexuality, including texts such as Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development. Being Homosexual was one of the first books to argue that homosexuality is an inborn identity, and the first to describe a non-pathological developmental pathway that is specific to gay men. It is widely considered a breakthrough in psychoanalytic theory and an important, historical work.

In an autobiographical chapter of his book, Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance, Isay tells the story of how he spent ten years trying to change his homosexual orientation. During his analysis, he married. After completing his analysis, he realised that he was, in fact, gay. He was closeted in his professional life for several years, during which time he became a prominent member of the American Psychoanalytic Association. He began to write about homosexuality shortly after meeting his life partner and future husband, Gordon Harrell, in 1979.

In Becoming Gay, Isay recounts that with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he threatened to sue the APsaA, due to their discriminatory policies. As a result, on 09 May 1991, the APsaA adopted a non-discrimination policy for the training of analytic candidates and changed its position statement on homosexuality. 1991 was also the year that the APsaA agreed to allow gays and lesbians to become training analysts, and to promote gay and lesbian teachers and supervisors.

This fundamental change in position by the APsaA created a ripple effect that was felt throughout the profession. The ApsaA was and is the preeminent psychoanalytic organisation in the world. These changes of position and practice by the APsaA became a stimulus for reform. They were slowly copied by psychoanalytic, psychiatric, psychological and social work organisations internationally. A few years later, these changes were adopted by psychoanalytic groups in the UK.

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