A Meltzer Center Retrospective

photo of three womenFor some of us "of a certain age," The Meltzer Center: Psychological and Community-based Services is more than merely the name of a clinic located in a graduate department of psychology. For us, the name Meltzer can only mean one man, Malcolm L. Meltzer, PhD, former chair of the Department of Psychology at GW and the director of the Clinical Psychology PhD program in the late 1960s and 1970s. His untimely death in 1982 in his late 50s—which is younger than most of us are now—was a shock to the entire DC psychology community at the time. I had the privilege of studying for my degree during Mal's tenure, which was during the veritable hay days of The Boulder Model. Along with colleagues Bob Holmstrom, Dave Silber, Bernie Levy, Steve Karp, Charles Rice, Robert Kahn, John Boriello, Mimi Spielberg, Isaiah Zimmerman, Shelly Kopp and others, Mal launched an entire generation of research-trained clinical PhDs across the country. We were invigorated with community mental health, assessment and psychotherapy training and charged with enthusiasm for the science and practice of clinical psychology. In many ways inspired by Mal, my former classmates now direct hospital clinical staffs and internship programs, they write, do research and training in self-psychology, gestalt and group psychotherapy training programs and institutes, they run major university research programs in neuropsychology and they own and administer managed care companies. Many are in private practice as psychotherapists, incorporating training, supervision, and innovative community programs in their work. They are active in regional, national and international organizations that apply psychological theories and concepts to individual, group and institutional problems. The Meltzer Center is a living testament to his skills as an educator, researcher and clinician.

Hopefully, this range of clinical practice is mirrored in the occupations of the graduates of the '80s, '90s and now, the 21st century, but it was during the tumultuous and exciting '60s and '70s, under the tutelage and inspiration of Mal Meltzer and his colleagues, that we baby-boomers were trained and took flight as hybrid scientist-practitioners.

Mal took the practice and teaching of clinical psychology seriously, and at the same time, with a light hand and a humorous touch. His clinical interests were wide-ranging, but his true loves were community mental health and assessment. After the race riots in 1968, the city of Washington was filled with concern, regret and good will on the part of the white community. Many in the helping professions thought we could do better than we'd done in the past. There was growing recognition something was fundamentally wrong with our approach to racial and social inequities. Aided by an infusion of cash in the form of Public Health Service funds for graduate training, federal financing of community mental health centers, and increased federal aid to education at all levels, Mal and the clinical faculty placed practicum students throughout the previously neglected DC public school system, community mental health centers, St. Elizabeth's Hospital and at DC General. Mal knew many elementary school principals in the city and worked with them, employing graduate students, to develop creative intervention programs for at-risk students. Along with these off-campus practicum placements, T-Group training, brown bag lunches, seminars with guest faculty, a lively assortment of adjunct faculty members with backgrounds in group and individual psychotherapy - G Street, NW hummed with excitement and aspiration.

Mal was always at the hub. He pushed, prodded, cajoled, encouraged and sometimes turned his scorn on the unenthusiastic, but his energy for practical applications of psychological theory, research and training was contagious. He believed many problems could be prevented or solved and that solutions should be attempted. He felt that failed experiments were better and more heuristic than cynicism and lethargy.

As president of the DC Psychological Association, Mal helped craft one of the earliest (and still one of the most comprehensive) mental health statutes in the country, The DC Mental Health Information Act, a piece of legislation written into the DC Code that was presciently consumer-based. He and Richard Youniss, PhD, the director of clinical training at Catholic University at the time, joined together to facilitate shared training and consortium opportunities. Dr. Youniss was a Lebanese Christian and Mal was Jewish. Mal confided that the secret of their successful collaboration was not only mutual admiration and respect but also the fact that "we agreed never to talk about politics in the Middle East."

I think I speak for many clinical psychology graduates of GW of the '60s and '70s when I say that The Meltzer Center for Psychological Services would be exceedingly gratifying to Mal, his spirit, his beliefs and his values as a psychologist and as an educator. It is my fond hope that this brief portrait brings him more to life for those of you though never knowing him personally, carry on his mission of education, research and service, with special attention to under-served residents of the DC community.

Hallie Lovett, Ph.D.
GW - 1977