Saybrook University Professor Kirk Schneider’s relentless journey to understand the world through a human lens, and his early work with humanistic luminaries such as Dr. Rollo May, has made him the leading scholar for contemporary existential-humanistic psychology.
The walls of Saybrook University Professor Kirk Schneider’s office in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow are something of an existential-humanistic psychology museum—a carefully curated scrapbook of all the people, places, and artifacts the Saybrook legend has collected and carried for nearly four decades.
There are paintings by Dr. Rollo May, drawings and illustrations from his patients, and a charcoal sketch of the professor at work. These keepsakes are kept close to honor the people who informed his existential path, which began at the age of 3.
“My 7-year-old brother died suddenly, and there was a shattering that took place,” explains Dr. Schneider, who received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Saybrook in 1984. His brother’s passing prompted a lifetime of humanistic exploration and scholarship. Along the way, he was fortunate to work with many great existential scholars—from his studies at Saybrook University with Dr. Stanley Krippner and Dr. James Bugental, to a life-changing conversation with Dr. May himself, at his iconic home in Tiburon high above the San Francisco Bay.
Not only did Dr. May, the father of existential psychotherapy, agree to become an advisor for Dr. Schneider’s Saybrook dissertation, he also invited the young doctoral student to co-author “The Psychology of Existence: An Integrative, Clinical Perspective,” a textbook on existential psychology.
“These kinds of experiences are what made Saybrook a watershed experience and the launch pad to my work on behalf of the existential-humanistic ways of life,” he says. “But none of it came easily or instantly. Saybrook challenged me and countless others to be self-learners and self-initiators—life-long skills that have helped me many times.”
Today, as the author of more than 100 articles and 10 books, vice president of the Existential-Humanistic Institute, and long-time adjunct faculty at Saybrook, Dr. Schneider carries the torch to move the existential-humanistic psychology movement boldly into the 21st century.
“Saybrook faculty and students are consciously attempting to draw upon the existential humanistic core that founded the school and advance that perspective to a new level of relevancy to the contemporary world,” says Dr. Schneider, who recently published a paper about “resetting psychology on its rightful existential-humanistic base” in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.
“In the wake of current events, such as the prevalence of mass shootings, I feel very strongly that we need to bring a focus on the person back to major sectors of our society,” he says. “The long-term remedy, I believe, is to bring depth-humanistic principles to child-rearing to educational settings, to work settings, to religious and spiritual settings, and even to the government.”
Just as Dr. May, Dr. Carl Rogers, and other humanistic psychology pioneers paved the way for a university like Saybrook to flourish, Dr. Schneider would like to see the modern humanist movement inspire a task force—with principles that can be shared with activists and community leaders to impact change on a global level.
“It’s really become a movement about helping to reset psychology on an existential-humanistic basis,” he explains. While his office embodies the past and present of his involvement in this movement, Dr. Schneider believes Saybrook can embody its future.
“Saybrook is the flagship graduate school for the new and expanded existential humanistic vision, which now encompasses an integrative, multicultural, and spiritual dimension that is at the cutting edge of psychology today,” he says. “It is a joy to teach the next generation of inquirers.”