In Memory of Dr. Jeanne Achterberg

Jeanne Achterberg
Dr. Jeanne Achterberg

About 10 years ago I read the book Woman as Healer because that is a topic I’ve long been interested in. A couple of years later I decided to go back to school to study for a doctorate in humanistic psychology. I had already enrolled at Saybrook before I realized that the author of Woman as Healer, Woman as HealerJeanne Achterberg, was on the faculty. I worked with her throughout my six years of study, and she chaired my dissertation committee. Jeanne Achterberg died on March 7, 2012. She was a popular and well-known scholar, researcher, and speaker, and she was immediately eulogized by her colleagues (see links below). But I knew her as a teacher—one of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my long academic career.

Jeanne Achterberg made her name in the field of alternative medicine, or mind-body medicine, with the development of the use of guided imagery in the treatment of cancer. In 2001 Time magazine named her one of 100 innovators for this pioneering work. Here are a couple of tributes by her colleagues:

Also, her family has set up a tribute page on Facebook.

Jeannie was passionate about her work in promoting the spiritual nature of healing, but she was equally devoted to mentoring students, particularly in their research. Many professors think of their graduate students as extensions of themselves whose main purpose is to further their mentors’ research. But Jeannie did not think that way. She saw her role of mentor as that of guiding students in pursuing the research topics they were interested in. Trained as an experimental psychologist, her first allegiance was always to science. Her approach was to work with students to find a sound methodology appropriate for their research questions. When, at the beginning of my doctoral research, I asked her for some specific direction, she gently refused—not because she wanted to work me as hard as possible, but because she wanted me to discover my own passion within the topic rather than pursuing hers.

The other characteristic that made Jeannie such a good teacher was her own willingness, even eagerness, to learn. She frequently talked about how much she learned from her students. When I wanted to use the developing methodology of narrative inquiry for my dissertation, she initially hesitated. But she gave me the opportunity to demonstrate its soundness, then declared herself convinced and wholeheartedly supported my work. I was truly blessed to be one of the many students who earned their degrees under her direction.

Intentional HealingThere is a complete list of her publications on her web site. Here are two of my favorites, in addition to Woman as Healer:

  • Lightning at the Gate, her memoir of her own experience of illness
  • Intentional Healing, an audio program that sums up her life’s work and her belief in the spiritual nature of healing

And in this 15-minute video she discusses transpersonal psychology in advance of her scheduled appearance as a keynote speaker at the Spirituality and Psychology Conference in February, 2012 (you will need to turn the volume all the way up on both the video and your machine):

Heaven must certainly be a much nattier place now that Jeannie has arrived to offer fashion advice.

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