In Memoriam: Donald H. Blocher, Ph.D.

On November 9, 2013, Donald H. Blocher of Hugo, MN, a highly influential psychologist and my former graduate program advisor, passed away. Don died at the age of 85; he is survived by his wife, Betty, his three children, John (Carolyn), Susan and Mark, and a grandson, Matthew.

A 1959 doctoral graduate of the University of Minnesota, Don had a distinguished career as a scholar and educator in counseling psychology.  Upon the completion of his graduate degree (which was done under the guidance of Dr. Gilbert Wrenn), he took a position at the university where he stayed until 1975—leaving to take a position at the University of Western Ontario.  In 1977 he joined the faculty at the University of Albany where he stayed until he retired in 1991.  He then returned to Minnesota.

Don was elected to Fellow status in the APA in 1975, and in 1981 served as President of APA’s Division 17, the Division of Counseling psychology (Society of Counseling Psychology).

He was the author of numerous books on the field of counseling psychology and professional counseling.  But his contributions to professional psychology in general and to counseling psychology in particular are perhaps best captured in his 1966 text, Developmental Counseling—a book that went through four editions, most recently appearing under the title: Counseling: A developmental approach (2000).  The key notions in this book characterized his perspective on the field—on what counseling psychology should be:

  • It should be developmental in focus—attending to processes of human development and life stages–elaborated in terms of social roles, developmental tasks, and coping behaviors.
  • It should focus on human effectiveness—on what people could become, the upper limits of human functioning.
  • Counselors are (or should be) behavioral scientists and agents of change—not only facilitating development of clients through counseling, but also acting as innovators of constructive change processes in the family, institutions and cultural milieu within which clients develop.

His book, written in the 1960s, at time when society was beset with social problems of an unprecedented magnitude, was written with an eye on keeping counseling psychology relevant in a changing society and geared to the needs of counselors attempting to work with the full range of socioeconomic and cultural difference.  Revised three times, the book never lost this focus despite changes in the field.

Several themes characterize the breadth of Don’s work and writing.  One was that human behavior and experience are products of the interaction between people and their environments.  He believed that it is misleading to attempt to understand either human beings or the environments they create in isolation from one another.  His was an ecological, interactional, or person/environment fit perspective.

Another especially significant and defining theme for Don was that of taking a developmental perspective in one’s work as a counselor and as an educator.  For Don, the basic purpose of counseling was to enhance and facilitate human growth and to help remove those obstacles within both people and environments that constrict and impede development.  The goals of counseling as he saw it was to be framed within developmental terms, rather than solely in terms of removing or curing pathology.

A final theme was that of the interconnectedness of people and their social and physical environments.  His was a systems approach to conceptualizing and intervention in human needs, concerns and problems.

The aggregation of these themes and perspectives into what Don called developmental counselingremains the foundation for contemporary counseling psychology.  But for Don these were more than “the profession’s values”–they were the behavioral science behind counseling psychology.

Although counseling psychology has evolved from its beginnings, the field has retained a commitment to the developmental, ecological and system themes that Don so articulately integrated in his scholarship and teaching.  One of his last publications, The Evolution of Counseling Psychology, published in 2000, retraces the history of the field—a history in which his contributions are quite clearly evident.

In his 30+ years of being a counselor educator/counseling psychologist, he touched the lives and careers of hundreds, leaving an indelible impact on faculty colleagues who learned with and from him, on students whose scholarship and practice are the legacy of his teaching and supervision, and on a profession that can credit Don as a “founding (and grounding) father” and major contributor.

Contributed by James W. Lichtenberg, Ph.D., ABPP, who is an Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research and Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Kansas.

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