Erikson Scholar Rachael Rosner, PhD, Conjures Aaron T. Beck at Riggs



Rachael Rosner, PhD is the 2015 Fall Erikson Scholar at the Austen Riggs Center.“It began with Freud,” says current Riggs Erikson Scholar Rachael Rosner, PhD, speaking about her journey from ancient Greek studies as an undergraduate to her Master’s degree in History to her Doctoral degree in Psychology to her current project exploring the life and work of Aaron T. Beck.

“I’m not a Freudian, but I do think Freud is the beginning of all that is interesting … I used to carry a copy of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams in my backpack in high school” said Dr. Rosner, who fully anticipated a career as a clinical psychologist when she began her undergraduate work at the University of Michigan. However, a love for ancient Greek history compelled her to focus her undergraduate studies differently. Dr. Rosner then pursued another passion of hers: acting, which she worked at for four years, achieving a level of success before “the call to Freud came back pretty strong.”

“I figured the best way to Freud was through history, because I knew I could do that and I enjoyed it,” said Dr. Rosner. So, she enrolled at the University of Rochester to study with a historian of psychoanalysis, William McGrath, figuring she would become a European historian. Except, as she puts it, “I wasn’t interested in any of the other European history, I just wanted to read all the psychologists.”

Her abiding interest in Freud and psychoanalysis eventually led her to York University in Toronto, one of the few universities that has a History of Psychology concentration in its Psychology department. There, she worked with notable historians David Bakan (Freud and Jewish Mystical Tradition); Kurt Danziger (Constructing the Subject); and Raymond Fancher (Psychoanalytic Psychology: The development of Freud's thought). Her concentration remained embedded in the history, but she also did all of the clinical training required for a clinical PhD in Psychology.

Next, Dr. Rosner studied with Anne Harrington, PhD, as part of a three-year National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard and did clinical training with Drew Westen, PhD, and neuropsychological assessment training at Cambridge Hospital.

As for how she came to her current project, the first comprehensive biography of Aaron T. Beck, tentatively titled In Beck’s Basement: Aaron T. Beck and the Emergence of Cognitive Therapy, the seeds were planted during her time at Rochester where she recognized a “psychoanalytic cast to cognitive therapy.” At the urging of one of her advisors, she wrote a paper on Beck and began wondering “what’s the story, because there is something that feels psychodynamic about this and I’d love to know more.”

She visited Riggs while doing research for her dissertation on Beck (who was a Fellow in psychiatry at Riggs from 1950 to 1952) and learned there were archival materials. When she decided to write the biography, she knew Riggs was “his [Beck’s] first formal experience doing psychodynamic treatment and I think it shaped him.” She continued, “Riggs was formative for him … I think the psychodynamic elements he has in cognitive therapy … I think he got it here. That’s why I thought it would be very useful for me to be here.”

When Dr. Rosner discovered the Erikson Scholar program on the Riggs website (www.austenriggs.org/erikson-scholar-program), she was initially hesitant to apply because of the history of acrimony between cognitive therapy and psychoanalysis. And yet, she felt “I really have to come here [Riggs]; it’s just so necessary.” So, she applied and was accepted to the program. “I was thrilled that the climate has changed sufficiently that we can have these conversations now. To me it demonstrates that this place [Riggs] is really open minded and eager for free intellectual exchange.”

Currently, “knee deep in the writing and … more than midway through,” Dr. Rosner’s time at Riggs working on the biography of Beck will include, in her words “work in the library and archives to answer questions I have about what happened to ego psychology after Rappaport died, connecting the dots a little bit historically about what Beck did while he was here and then writing as much as I humanly can.”   

You can hear Dr. Rosner present at Riggs, on November 6, 2015, from 8:00-10:00pm, as part of our Friday Night Guest Lecture series. She will be presenting Aaron T. Beck’s Lost Triad: Dreams and the Origins of Beck’s Cognitive Therapy. For more information on this and other ongoing educational events at Riggs, visit: www.austenriggs.org/events/ongoing-educational-events.