Robert Shilkret

Citation for 2010 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

In his 37th year on the faculty, Robert Shilkret, the Norma Cutts Dafoe Professor of Psychology, continues to be an indispensible presence in the intellectual and pedagogic life of Mount Holyoke College. While teaching, training, deaning, and practicing psychotherapy as a professional analyst, Bob has managed, somehow, to produce a truly major body of scholarship on a range of subjects.

Early in his career in 1972, Bob received a national prize from the American Psychological Association for his graduate research work on semantic complexity in the speech patterns of children. Six years later, a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Zion Hospital provided a professional and intellectual turning point that ultimately shaped his career. Bob returned to South Hadley a believer in the theory and practice of Control Mastery Theory, a mode of talk therapy developed by Joseph Weiss and Harold Sampson which departs significantly from strict Freudian principles of analysis and the role of the unconscious. Bob’s scholarship builds on the insights of Control Mastery Theory and has become fundamental, indeed groundbreaking, in a wide range of areas.

For example, his paper on the role of unconscious guilt in assessing students’ plans for college, in the distinguished Journal of Counseling Psychology, drew on Bob’s experience in the Dean of Studies office. The analysis of students’ “bids for autonomy” applied control mastery theory to help students understand and negotiate the pressures and claims of family in light of their own transition to adulthood. More recently, Bob has applied control mastery theory to the study of attachment theory in a variety of situations, among them parenting styles among mothers and the institutionalization of children in Bulgaria and adult attachment styles on an Israeli kibbutz. Indeed, Bob has emerged as a major theorist and disseminator of Control Mastery Theory in his own right, explaining the importance and implications of CMT, attachment theory and ego psychology in standard sourcebooks in the field.

Bob’s intellectual interests have turned most recently to the history of mental health in the United States and its spatial representations--the architecture of asylums in the Nineteenth Century and how space signifies conceptions of treatment. We look forward to Bob’s marshalling of his profound knowledge of Freud and psychoanalysis and this recent historicizing of mental illness into yet another ground-breaking study.

The Cameron Prize is awarded with great pleasure to Bob Shilkret for his sustained and impressive record of scholarship on the theory and application of Control Mastery Theory; but Bob could easily have been recognized for his stellar achievement in the classroom over thirty years of teaching. He has directed 33 honors essays with six awarded Summa. Students flock to his classes. As a student in Concepts of Abnormality puts it: “Dr. Shilkret is a brilliant scholar in his field of psychology. It was one of the few times in my academic career that I felt I was receiving the richest form of learning.” Well into his fourth decade at Mount Holyoke, Bob Shilkret continues to inspire, teaching our students, at this crucial identity-shaping moment, how to learn, indeed how they might come to be a caring professional, an academic researcher in psychology, or just become a caring member of society. At a time when the justification and prospects of liberal arts colleges are under assault, can we imagine a stronger answer to that challenge than the career of Robert Shilkret? Please join me in applauding him.